In a newsmaker interview, Alberto Fujimori, President of Peru, discusses the status of the hostage situation at the Japanese Embassy in Lima and his recent meeting with Prime Minister Hashimoto of Japan.
JAMES LEHRER: We go first tonight to the president of Peru on the hostage situation in Lima and to Elizabeth Farnsworth.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
January 27, 1997:
Charlayne Hunter-Gault gets an update on the hostage situation from NPR reporter Jonathan Miller.
January 2, 1997:
Jim Lehrer speaks with journalist Jonathan Miller, reporting live from Peru.
December 23, 1996:
Marxist rebels released 225 hostages from the Japanese ambassador's residence in a "good will" Christmas gesture.
December 19, 1996:
In a stunning attack, a band of Peruvian rebels stormed the Japanese embassy in Lima holding 490 hostage.
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Today is the 48th day of Peru's hostage crisis. On December 17th, heavily armed members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, seized more than 400 people attending a diplomatic reception at the residence of the Japanese ambassador in Lima.
The rebels made a series of demands, most importantly the release of about 400 of their comrades from prisons around Peru. In the weeks since the takeover all but 72 of the hostages have been released, but those remaining include high officials of Peru's security forces and the younger brother of President Alberto Fujimori.
Last week, a new group of Peruvian troops with heavier equipment took over the embassy vigil. They played loud military music and made provocative gestures to the rebels who unleashed a burst of gunfire. That prompted Japan's prime minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, to publicly urge Peru not to take any unnecessary risks which could endanger the hostages' lives.
Late last week President Fujimori went to Canada to meet with Hashimoto. The two leaders said they were in agreement on how to handle the hostage situation but provided few details. President Fujimori then flew to Washington and met this morning with President Clinton. I talked with the Peruvian president at his Washington hotel before the White House meeting.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. President. After your meeting in Toronto with Prime Minister Hashimoto of Japan. Are you any closer to a resolution of the hostage situation in the Japanese embassy in Peru?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI, Peru: (speaking through interpreter) I think so because we find ourselves in a very unified position, and the strategy has been enhanced so that we think we are closer.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What agreement did you come to with the Prime Minister?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) We reached an important agreement. For example, the use of force would be referred to only if there were victims within the residence. I think that this is very important. Furthermore, we agreed in definitive terms that the 400 NRTA prisoners' release will not be allowed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. On the question of force, if a hostage is hurt in some way, can you use force without contacting Prime Minister Hashimoto, and must you get his permission first?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) We have a hotline open 24 hours, and, of course, we have to have the consent of the prime minister. We hope that this moment doesn't come to pass at all.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you said--you told the Washington Post in an interview yesterday that, or an interview Saturday, that there is a, I guess, implicit agreement that the rebels inside the embassy have implicitly agreed that they will discuss--they will have discussions with you, and they won't in those discussions demand that their comrades in prison be freed, is that true? That seems to be a big change.
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) We were working on a document which is still kept under reserve by agreement of both parties, Monsignor Cipriani, who's a--and the NRTA group. In this reserve document it doesn't say explicitly anything about the release of prisoners. Rather, it says that one would work under Peruvian law. So some advances have been made. At least, it doesn't explicitly raise the demand of their release.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And yet, the head of the rebels in the embassy, Mr. Cerba, said just in the last day that they still demand that what is it, more than 300 of their comrades in prison be released, that that is their basic demand. Are you still essentially deadlocked?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) I don't think we're in a deadlock. I think, rather, that they need to maintain their face vis-a-vis the public opinion, but I believe I'm aware that this is impossible.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So just to summarize, you say that you've made some progress because you have a document in your--this document — a basis for preliminary discussions? PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) There's been some progress. We're now moving back to these preliminary conversations in which we could be improving a document, so as on the basis of that document proceed to definitive conversations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Would you be prepared to offer them asylum in a third country?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) Well, there aren't many countries who want to offer them asylum. I suppose not even the United States would give them asylum because they are terrorists; they are criminals. But in any event, we'll have to seek and prepare ourselves for eventual asylum if they so desire.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you are looking for a country that would give them asylum?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) In any event, yes. Of course, we have to be seeking alternatives because at the last moment it would be difficult to find such a place.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And would you be willing if they settled for this, would you be willing to promise and then make reforms in prison?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) The Peruvian prisons are among the best penitentiary systems in Latin America. What they say is not true. Of course, the terrorists have a rigorous and maximum security system, not like before when they controlled the prison. Up until 1992, Shining Path and the NRTA controlled life inside the prison. They held marches and training. Now they're safe prisons. We've built 23 prisons. We've invested $100 million, which is quite a bit for Peru, and we have one of the best penitentiary systems in Latin America, I repeat, and the thing is that they no longer have control over those prisons. But no doubt, there are some steps that we, ourselves, as the government have taken to improve the prison situation, for example, seeking proper equipment and some pavilions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But the prisons have been criticized by groups beyond the MRTA, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and I believe even our own State Department have criticized the conditions in prisons. So even if you have started improving, would there be more a significant move that you could make that might go some ways toward satisfying the demands of the MRTA people holding the prisoners, holding the hostages?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) We're not hearing expressions from Amnesty International, America's Watch, or the State Department. We govern our country by our laws, and we are up to international standards in our prisons. The thing is that now, I repeat, they no longer control the prisons. And the greatest violators of human rights have been they, themselves. Let's not lose sight of the fact that they assassinated 25,000 people, and they've caused $25 billion of damage. They were the human rights violators. The government, what it has done has been to defend the human rights of 24 million Peruvians.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I read that you said in an interview that you--there would be a way to find concessions which would allow them to save face. What might those concessions be?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) There are very few concessions that we can make because this is a criminal act. The concessions that we can make are those that a serious country when the law is upheld might be able to give, so I couldn't really say very much about this. We have to be very creative.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. President, your brother is in the embassy, and you said many times that you can't look at the situation any differently because he's there than if he weren't there, but it must be very difficult for you to have him there.
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) It isn't. For me, the important thing is to keep the country fully pacified as it is at this time. The treatment of one person who tells, whether it's my brother or someone else, is the same. I would like for Peru to continue to enjoy total peace so that tourists and missions can continue to come to Peru.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you have a model for resolving this crisis? In Colombia in 1980, the M-19 guerrillas took some ambassadors hostage in an embassy, and they were eventually given asylum in Cuba and given some money, and then in Colombia, as elsewhere, the guerrillas were eventually integrated into the political process. There was as peace accord, and they became part of the political process. Could that happen in Peru?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) In no way--and I tell you this in clear cut terms because this is a totally isolated case. The MRTA and Shining Path have been totally dismantled. They don't have any followers. It's a different situation from what happened in Colombia or Central America. There can't be a peace agreement. What possibilities of political recognition can there be for a group of criminals, or criminal group? None whatsoever. And if some of them who've not committed a crime, who've been in the ranks at the MRTA would like to have a political movement, that's perfectly fine. They can abide by the law, meet all the requirements, and then as we have full democracy in Peru they can participate in the political life. But in Peru, there are no guerrilla movements. There have been terrorists. Please, let's make a distinction between guerrillas and terrorism.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, listening to you, it sounds like there is not much room for any compromise because they are insisting on this minimal demand that their prisoners be released, and you are insisting that you can't do that, so it may go on for quite a while, is that true?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: Be sure that there is not much room in this conversation for delinquency. There's not much concession. That must be very clear. Let me say this in English.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: No concessions to delinquents, is that what you're saying?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: Not much in this case.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Finally, what do you want to talk to President Clinton about? What will you be saying to President Clinton?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) No doubt, we'll be talking about the strategy having to do with Peru's security and regional security in light of the current moment, and also the ever-increasing cooperation between Peru and the United States.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. President, thank you very much for being with us.
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: Welcome. A pleasure.