Paramilitary fighters surrender in Peru

/ Source: The Associated Press

Fighters belonging to an armed nationalist group that seized a remote Peruvian police station and took officers and soldiers hostage surrendered to authorities Tuesday and freed their 17 captives, officials said.

The surrenders of the group’s leader and his fighters came separately. Former army Maj. Antauro Humala turned himself in late Monday, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo said, while 94 of his fighters carrying white flags walked out of the station Tuesday morning, carrying white flags and placing their automatic rifles on the ground.

“Last night at 10:30 p.m. we arrested the leader of the terrorist group,” Toledo said in a nationally broadcast address to the nation. “And today at 11:30 we achieved the surrender of the other 94, recovered the weapons, liberated the hostages and retook the police station, thus re-establishing public order.”

The rebels, all former soldiers, flashed “V” signs for victory and sang the Peru army anthem before climbing into three buses provided by the police and riding away.

The hostages also left in one of the buses.

Toledo’s resignation demanded
Fighters supporting Humala, whose group wants to establish a nationalist indigenous movement modeled on the ancient Incan Empire, ambushed police reinforcements as they crossed a bridge Sunday, killing four officers.

Humala’s group demanded the resignation of Toledo, accusing him of selling out Peru to business interests in Chile, a historic rival. Humala and his brother led a failed military uprising against former President Alberto Fujimori in 2000.

The extremist group opposes foreign investment and preaches against the European-descended elite that has ruled Peru for hundreds of years.

Toledo refused to step down, instead declaring a state of emergency and sending 1,000 troops to the region.

Weekend standoff
The standoff began Saturday when the gunmen took over the police station in this Andean town, about 275 miles southeast of the capital, Lima. Ten police officers were taken hostage.

A day later, authorities said, the group ambushed a police vehicle crossing a bridge across town, killing four officers and wounding several others. One gunman was fatally wounded in the attack, local media reported.

Members of an armed group led by former army Major Antauro Humala patrol the streets during the siege of a police station in Andahuaylas, January 3, 2005. Peruvian police are preparing to storm the police station which the armed group took over on New Year's Day and warned residents to take temporary shelter. (PERU OUT) REUTERS/AndinaAndina / X80002

On Monday, Humala said one fighter was killed and another wounded at the police station by army sharpshooters. Tuesday a rebel said two had died. It was not clear whether the wounded soldier had succumbed, or the reference was to a different fighter. Humala claimed a young resident of the town was also killed.

Also Monday, the group captured at least four Peruvian soldiers and was holding them hostage along with the 10 police officers. Officials did not identify the other three hostages.

A rebel who said he was the group’s new commander after Humala turned himself in told Peruvian radio station Radioprogramas that the fighters hesitated to surrender because they did not trust the government.

“We simply want to discuss the terms of laying down our arms, nothing more,” he said without identifying himself.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said security forces did not storm the building out of concern for the hostages’ safety.

“We took measures oriented to avoid more spilling of blood,” Toledo said Tuesday. “At the same time we had ready a contingency plan to suffocate the rebellion with the legitimate use of force.”

Group has grass-roots support
Humala enjoys strong local support. Thousands of residents converged on the town square Monday, demanding a peaceful settlement. Humala joined them during what he claimed was a three-hour truce agreed to by police.

Humala is the brother of Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala, who recently was forced to retire from his post as a military attache at the Peruvian Embassy in South Korea.

In October 2000, the Humala brothers led 50 followers in a short-lived military uprising, a month before the collapse of Fujimori’s corruption-ridden, 10-year regime.

The revolt failed to spark the wider rebellion the brothers had hoped for. The Humala brothers and their followers were granted amnesty in December 2000 by Peru’s Congress.