Rescuers charged over Peru siege

BBC -- 26 May 2002

A Peruvian human rights attorney has filed murder charges against ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos, the chief of the armed forces and 17 army officers for the alleged execution of three leftist rebels in 1997.

The rebels were allegedly killed by military commandos after they surrendered during the rescue of 71 hostages from the Japanese ambassador's residence.

Peru's attorney general's office announced the charges on Friday and a judge must now decide whether to proceed with a trial.

An investigation is also being opened into disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori's "presumed responsibility" for the alleged human rights abuses that accompanied the dramatic rescue, Attorney General Nelly Calderon said.

National heroes

The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement rebels had held 72 VIP hostages for more than four months until the commandos stormed in.

The rescue made them national heroes.

All 14 rebels, one hostage and two commandos died in the daring operation, in which soldiers burst into the residence from secret underground tunnels.

The military maintained that all 14 guerrillas were killed in initial bomb blasts and the ensuing fire-fight, but prosecutor Richard Saavedra says three guerrillas were executed after they surrendered.

Witnesses and former hostages say they saw the dead rebels Herma Luz Melendez, Victor Peceros and Eduardo "Tito" Cruz taken into custody alive.

A forensic report on the rebels' exhumed bodies has not yet been released, but sources close to the investigation say at least eight rebels were incapacitated then shot from behind.

Prosecution immunity

Anti-corruption Judge Jorge Barreto now has 15 days to decide whether to proceed with the case.

At the time, Mr Fujimori boasted of personally planning the rescue operation.

He fled to Japan in November 2000 following a corruption scandal which ended his presidency.

Mr Montesinos was Mr Fujimori's security chief for a decade. He is now in jail awaiting trial on a number of charges, including running a death squad.