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Montesinos Evades Capture By Peruvian Military Forces

By Anthony Faiola
THE WASHINGTON POST -- LIMA, Peru

Vladimiro Montesinos, the shadowy security aide who for 10 years helped President Alberto Fujimori maneuver through civil war and back-room politics, was reported holed up at a Peruvian military base Monday as opposition politicians demanded his arrest.

After news reports suggested that Montesinos had been detained by military officers at Lima’s Las Palmas air force base, his sister, Ana, filed a court petition demanding that the 56-year-old power broker and intelligence chief be released. But opposition politicians seeking confirmation of his status got conflicting reports when they entered the base, which also houses the headquarters of the feared agency Montesinos once headed -- the National Intelligence Service.

The uncertainty surrounding Montesinos betrayed a sudden vacuum in civilian power two days after Fujimori’s surprising announcement that he would fire Montesinos, disband the intelligence service, hold new national elections and step down after 10 tumultuous years as president.

Fujimori, renowned for his out-front and take-charge style of leadership, was uncharacteristically silent. Montesinos’s fate instead seemed to lie with rival factions within the armed forces. Higher-ranking army officers, placed in key commands by Montesinos, were reported to be loyal to him. But a group of lower-ranking officers outraged by allegations of Montesinos’s involvement in a crooked arms deal were reportedly eager to see him go.

The outcome of the struggle seemed likely to provide at least a partial answer to a question long in debate here: Who has really been in charge of Peru over the last decade -- Fujimori or the onetime army deserter who became the main political operative at Fujimori’s elbow, the man in charge of a secretive intelligence service accused of enforcing loyalty to the president by what many considered underhanded means.

Many analysts have suggested Fujimori decided to resign only after Montesinos, who is believed to have damning information about Fujimori, refused to leave his post following the public airing Thursday of a videotape that showed Montesinos apparently bribing an opposition congressman. That followed close on another scandal in which Montesinos was allegedly tied to the furtive sale of AK-47 assault rifles to Colombia’s main rebel group.

“I understand that the military is moving away from Montesinos at ballistic speed,” said Mirko Lauer, a political analyst and journalist for La Republica newspaper. “This does not mean they are moving toward Fujimori. Rather, it means they have taken a military position, divesting themselves from their liability. It would mean that Fujimori succeeded in firing Montesinos, but at the cost of his job as president.”

At the same time, opposition congressmen remained worried that Montesinos was in fact being protected by officers who remain loyal to him and was negotiating his exit from the country -- or possibly was trying to orchestrate a move against Fujimori.

Word of the detention surfaced on the generally reliable CPN Radio station here. Citing an unidentified military source, the broadcast said the arrest order was issued by one of Montesinos’s close associates, Gen. Jose Villanueva Ruestra, commander of Peru’s armed forces.