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1997: Shots heard at besieged embassy in Peru

Gunshots have been heard inside the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru, where left-wing guerrillas have been holding 72 hostages for the last four weeks.

At 1120 local time, police surrounding the embassy compound dived for cover as members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) opened fire.

Television cameras showed two armed rebels with grenades strapped to their bodies, wearing bulletproof vests, firing around the compound.

Minutes earlier an International Red Cross mediator, Michel Minnig, had left the building after delivering food and water for those inside.

Mr Minnig returned to the embassy after the shooting to confirm that no-one was harmed.

Japanese ambassador held

On policeman told reporters: "We heard at least 12 gunshots coming in our direction but they appeared to be a provocation rather than an attempt to hit specific targets."

Later tonight the guerrilla leader Nestor Cerpa Cartolini said his followers had fired the "warning shots" because the police had broken an agreement by coming "fewer than 100 meters" from the compound.

The rebels first stormed the building on 17 December demanding the release of 440 of their comrades in return for the release of the hostages.

Among those held are the Peruvian foreign minister, the Japanese ambassador, and 23 other Japanese nationals.

Tension is now extremely high as the stand-off continues between the two sides, with the Peruvian Government, headed by President Alberto Fujimori, ignoring the demands of the MRTA which has been fighting to overthrow the government since 1984.

The government has however talked of setting up a "commission of guarantors" to talk through a peaceful solution to the crisis.

In Context
The siege of the Japanese embassy finally ended on 22 April - four months after it began - when government troops stormed the building.

Within minutes all 14 Tupac Amaru guerrillas were killed including their leader Nestor Cerpa. Most died in an explosion set off by the troops.

One hostage - supreme court judge Carlos Giusti Acuna - also died, as well as two Peruvian soldiers.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaru Hashimoto, thanked President Fujimori, himself the son of Japanese immigrants, for freeing the hostages.

The Peruvian president remained popular for taking a hard line on terrorism but human rights groups have since alleged that troops shot some of the rebels who had given themselves up.

A bribery scandal involving former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, forced Mr Fujimori to resign in November 2000 while on a trip to Japan where he lives in self-imposed exile.


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