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Political analyst Mirko Lauer
"Everybody is talking about the possibility of a coup"
 real 28k

Peruvian legislator Martha Chavez
"I don't think we should be too worried"
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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
High tension in Peru
Protesters clash with police in Lima
By the BBC's Jonathan Fryer in Lima

The unexpected return of Peru's disgraced former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, has heightened the country's sense of crisis.

Vladimiro Montesinos
Montesinos found no refuge in Panama
Mirko Lauer, a senior Peruvian political commentator, said the return of Mr Montesinos "has had quite a destabilising effect".

He described Mr Montesinos as "a ghost from the recent past".

"Everybody is talking about the possibility of a coup in Lima," he said.

Many Peruvians believe that Mr Montesinos' return has something to do with government plans to pass new amnesty laws, relating to civilians who committed human rights abuses and other crimes in the past.

That was the issue over which Peru's Vice-President Tudela resigned on Monday.

Amnesty no help

But Mr Lauer is sceptical that there is any link between Mr Montesinos and the proposed amnesty laws, which would give certain civilians the sort of immunity from prosecution already enjoyed by the military.

"The military already have four amnesty laws granted to them by Congress," Mr Lauer said.

"My feeling is that it is more Mr Fujimori and his civilian entourage that want [new amnesty] laws."

A protest poster labels Montesinos an "assassin"
Martha Chavez, a close ally of Mr Fujimori's in the Peruvian Congress, agrees: "I don't think Mr Montesinos will be very interested in this amnesty law, because it won't help him.

"Many of the deeds attributed to him are nothing to do with human rights, but rather to common crimes, such as having unexplained money and involvement in arms trafficking and things like that."

Amnesty laws have been a controversial issue throughout Latin America.

They were an integral part of the democratisation process that swept the continent from the mid-1980s onwards, as military dictatorships gave way to civilian rule.

Emergency measures

But they are still deeply resented by many of the victims of torture and the families of people who disappeared.

In Peru's case, some of the human rights abuses which might be covered by amnesty laws are more recent, such as when Mr Fujimori used emergency measures in the 1990s to fight against left-wing insurgency.

So it is something many people in the opposition feel very strongly about.

However, Mr Lauer believes the opposition needs to reflect more on the realities of the current situation.

Demonstrators have braved police
He said the opposition should not get too excited by events such as Mr Montesinos' return: "I think there is more to the process of opposition and the struggle for democracy - the transition to democracy and the dismantling of a dictatorial system - than just Mr Montesinos flying away to Panama for four weeks."

Meanwhile, it is clear that many opposition figures will not be content until Mr Fujimori is out of office.

But if they try too hard to push him, they could easily provoke a fierce response.

Martha Chavez believes the opposition is over-reacting to the current situation, including Mr Montesinos' return.

"I don't think we should be too worried, because we still don't know for what purpose Dr Montesinos has come back here to Peru," she told the BBC.

"It is my hope that he will be here, not to aspire to reassume any official function.

"He's no longer a person entitled to any post in public administration."

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | Americas
Peruvian president refuses to go
20 Sep 00 | Americas
US seeks 'real democracy' in Peru
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