Peru Soldiers Take Five Hostages

Associated Press -- 30 October 2000

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Just when President Alberto Fujimori appeared to be wresting control of Peru's military from his ex-spy chief and stabilizing weeks of political turmoil, a group of 51 soldiers staged a daring revolt - demanding Fujimori resign and the shadowy spymaster be put behind bars.

Fujimori held an emergency meeting at the Government Palace with the newly appointed army chief and radio reports Monday morning said he left the meeting in a heavily-armed caravan for a military air base in Lima's port of Callao. The caravan was seen returning to the palace shortly afterward. The purpose of the trip was not immediately clear.

Expressing disgust with Fujimori and the continued influence of his former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, the insurrectionists seized a southern mine before dawn Sunday and then fled with five hostages - a brigadier general and four workers.

The soldiers started their revolt in the copper mining town of Toquepala, 535 miles south of Lima, before heading north into the Andes, possibly toward a military garrison near Lake Titicaca, which separates Peru from Bolivia.

Military helicopters took up the chase, but so far no information was released indicating they had been located.

There were no reports of similar uprisings in other military posts.

The army said in a communique that Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala led the revolt with his brother, Antuaro, a retired army major. The army pledged to put down the uprising to re-establish ``social and political stability.''

Retired army Gen. Sinecio Jarama said Sunday's uprising was a dangerous sign that could ``seriously effect the establishment of the state and the unity of the military.'' But he did not believe the movement was strong enough to create a coup.

The rebellion was the latest twist in a six-week saga that has seen a breakdown of Fujimori's authoritarian rule and the unraveling of a sinister web of influence spun by Montesinos, who remains in hiding.

Humala read a statement broadcast over radio: ``I will lay down my arms when the chain of command is legitimate and there is a president who has been truly elected by the people to whom I would swear subordination and valor.''

Humala said the military high command hand-picked by Montesinos was ``a cancer to the nation'' that had tarnished Peru's proud military with corruption, narcotics trafficking and arms dealing.

Their father, Isaac Humala, a labor lawyer, said he was proud of the action taken by his sons. ``I support it,'' he told Peru's CPN radio. ``If they have gone this far, there is no turning back until it is finished.''

Peru has been in turmoil since the mid-September release of a video showing Montesinos apparently bribing a congressman to support Fujimori.

The ensuing scandal forced Fujimori to announce he would step down in July after new elections. He also distanced himself from Montesinos, who fled the country.

But the crisis intensified a week ago when Montesinos returned to Peru after a failed asylum bid in Panama and promptly went underground.

The break between Fujimori and his spy chief - considered by many here the person truly in control of Peru over the last decade - became the source of repeated coup rumors and general political instability.

Over the course of the 1990s, Fujimori handed control of Peru's armed forces to Montesinos, eliminating a time-honored promotion system and allowing him to install loyalists in most key posts.

Fujimori appeared to begin to dismantle that control on Saturday, forcing the resignations of the heads of the army, navy and air force - all rumored to be protecting Montesinos. He also dismissed army Gen. Luis Cubas, Montesinos' brother-in-law, as commander of Peru's Lima-based tank division - a strategic key to impede any coup attempt in the capital.

But the president's choice of Gen. Walter Chacon to head the army and command the military joint chiefs of staff drew criticism from human rights groups and some political leaders. Chacon, previously the interior minister, is widely viewed as controlled by Montesinos as well.

Francisco Diez-Canseco, president of Peru's Council for Peace, said Fujimori had only himself to blame for Sunday's revolt, which he said was sparked by the president's ``attempt to present cosmetic changes in the army high command.''

Sunday's revolt occurred in the Third Regional Command, the army's most powerful post, run by Montesinos loyalist Gen. Abraham Cano.