Peru Govt. Agrees to Election Date

Associated Press -- 25 October 2000

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Peru's government agreed Wednesday to hold new elections in April, and President Alberto Fujimori ordered the army confined to barracks while he and his security forces hunt for his feared former intelligence adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos.

The rapid-fire developments Wednesday evening came in a nation thrown into political turmoil by Montesinos' return from Panama. Many here have speculated that the former spy chief still commands the loyalty of much of the military and had come back Monday to force a showdown for power with Fujimori.

Fujimori said late Wednesday that no arrest order had been issued against Montesinos, but he said he had ordered a search to locate the former spy chief because his presence was causing problems for Peru at a critical time.

``The police will locate him and he will be turned over to judicial authorities,'' Fujimori said. ``It's not up to me to detain him, but simply locate him. My interest is to locate him to provide tranquility for the country.''

Fujimori said that even as Montesinos was flying back Monday from a failed asylum bid in Panama, he was urging the former spy chief by telephone to go to another country as a tourist instead.

Montesinos has not been seen publicly since his return to Peru. Fujimori said Montesinos has some kind of organized network helping him, a factor that has complicated the search. He did not elaborate.

Earlier in the day, Fujimori said he had ordered a ``complete freeze'' of the armed forces, confining them to barracks - apparently in case Montesinos loyalists remain in the army.

The president also led a convoy of vehicles carrying members of an elite police force to an army officers club in the resort town of Chaclacayo, located in the foothills of the Andes 22 miles east of Lima. Local radio and TV stations speculated that Fujimori was trying to corner and capture Montesinos at the site.

In Lima, meanwhile, a top-level Organization of American States delegation coaxed Fujimori's government and his opponents back to the bargaining table Wednesday and hammered out an agreement to hold special elections on April 8.

Justice Minister Alberto Bustamante said the government had withdrawn its demand that new elections be contingent on a broad amnesty for military and civilian officials accused of human rights abuses stemming from Peru's battle with leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers.

Fujimori had announced last month that he would step down next summer - four years ahead of schedule - after a leaked videotape showed Montesinos apparently bribing a lawmaker. Montesinos fled, and Fujimori promised that elections would be held and he would not be a candidate.

But OAS-mediated negotiations between the government and the opposition to set an election date had failed until now. The sticking point had been the government amnesty demand: The government said it was only trying to prevent a ``witch hunt'' after the power transfer, but opposition leaders alleged that the government was trying to grant amnesty for the spy chief and his cronies in the military.

About 100 protesters gathered outside the hotel where Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the OAS, and both sides were meeting to set the election date. They piled up garbage bags imprinted with mugshot images of a smiling Fujimori and a grim-faced Montesinos dressed in cartoon-like prison stripes.

Even before Wednesday evening's moves, indications that Montesinos was losing in a power struggle for control of the armed forces were increasingly evident here.

Radio and newspapers reported Wednesday that four Montesinos loyalists in the army were detained Monday on Fujimori's orders.

A senior U.S. official who has been involved with the unfolding crisis said Fujimori is removing people who are more loyal to Montesinos than to him. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Fujimori is clearly in charge and has the support of the military.

Fujimori has steadfastly rejected opposition demands that he quit, insisting that he, not Montesinos, controls the military - a key issue in the stalled negotiations.

The opposition has been calling for Fujimori's resignation, saying he is not in control and charging that he has been backtracking on democratic reforms needed for new elections.