The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 56.0°F | Fog

Claiming Subversion, Guerrillas Halt Peace Talks on Peru Crisis

By Sebastian Rotella
Los Angeles Times
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina

Accusing the Peruvian government of planning a subterranean attack, the leftist rebels who are holding 72 hostages in Lima halted talks with the government Thursday, saying they suspect security forces are digging a tunnel beneath the besieged Japanese ambassador's residence.

Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, the rebel leader, told reporters by two-way radio the guerrillas have heard loud noises growing under the mansion in the past three days.

The guerrillas believe that police are digging a tunnel through which they would launch a raid, Cerpa said. He said the rebels will not attend Friday's scheduled talks, which would have been the ninth round of negotiations in the 78-day standoff.

"We are taking protective measures," Cerpa said. "We are ready to confront whatever situation arises. Tomorrow we will not attend the conversations because we do not think it is correct that on the one hand there is talk of dialogue and conversations and on the other there are these kinds of maneuvers."

A police commander denied Cerpa's accusation Thursday afternoon. "There is no such tunnel," Col. Fernan Zapata told Radioprogramas radio network. In response to the development, President Alberto Fujimori cut short a trip to Cuzco and hurried back to Lima.

The verbal offensive Thursday by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement injected new tension into the crisis and dampened recent hopes of a breakthrough. Whether Cerpa spoke out of genuine alarm or merely to strengthen his negotiating position, his announced withdrawal raised fears of a major breakdown in the talks.

Cerpa told reporters that the hostages also had heard noises under the floor. He invited mediators to enter the residence to listen for themselves. Three mediators - Bishop Juan Luis Cipriani, Ambassador Anthony Vincent of Canada and Michel Minnig, chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Lima - visited the barricaded mansion and left without comment.

An estimated 18 Tupac guerrillas took over the residence Dec. 17. They have reportedly rigged it with explosives. Their hostages include Japanese and Peruvian diplomats, Cabinet ministers, and legislators.