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Rebels Seeking Shelter Find Fewer Havens


When Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori announced this week that both Cuba and the Dominican Republic were willing to grant asylum to the Marxist guerrillas holding 72 hostages in Lima, observers were not as surprised by the news so much as the fact it took Peru so long to find a haven.

One answer is that the world is taking a more hard-line stance on guerrilla movements. Countries once ruled by socialist governments sympathetic to revolutions are now fighting to keep terrorism outside their frontiers. Forums like the United Nations and the Organization of American States repeatedly have condemned terrorism in all its forms.

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"It's a different world now," says Raul Gonzales, a Lima-based analyst who has studied Peru's insurgencies. "Europe and Latin America today regard guerrillas as common criminals and don't want to grant asylum any more."

While the rebels say they want to stay in their country, they didn't reject the asylum offer outright.

Peru has negotiated with many countries during the 11-week-old crisis - the longest such siege in Latin American history. Before this week, Lima's efforts yielded little or no success. Nations said to have been approached include Canada, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Denmark, and Romania, but all denied reports that they were willing to grant asylum.

"There aren't many countries left in the world that would grant refuge to terrorists," Mr. Fujimori said Tuesday. "Certainly none of the developed nations would accept them, as all these countries now reject this type of terrorist action."

Gone is the era of the 1970s, when Japan solved sky-jackings within hours by flying Red Army guerrillas to countries like North Korea that were sympathetic to their cause. In the 1980s, Sweden, France, and Belgium all granted political asylum to members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) and the Shining Path, Peru's larger guerrilla movement.

In addition, MRTA spokesman Isaac Velazco currently lives in Germany.

But none of these nations offered to put up the group of 20 heavily armed MRTA rebels who stormed the Japanese ambassador's residence Dec. 17 and took high-ranking dignitaries hostage.

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So when Fujimori flew to the Caribbean for talks with Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz, many analysts saw the trip as a last-ditch attempt to find a place to send the rebels once the hostage crisis is over. "The possibility that a country would accept this MRTA group means that at long last, progress has been made in the attempts to free the hostages," says a former Peruvian congressman, Enrique Bernales. "But it shouldn't have been necessary for the president to go in person."

Cuba, which seeks the support of Latin American leaders against US policies, has played a key role in past crises. In 1980, the country granted asylum to Colombia's M-19 guerrillas, ending a two-month siege of the Dominican Embassy in Bogota. In June 1995, Cuba granted safe passage to Dignity, a group that kidnapped the brother of then-Colombian President Cesar Gaviria.

The Dominican Republic, meanwhile, granted asylum to five members of Spain's ETA Basque separatist movement in 1989 after peace negotiations with Spain broke down. In 1993, the Caribbean nation granted a safe passage to Nicaraguan rebels who took over the Nicaraguan Embassy in Costa Rica.

Even so, various sectors in the Dominican Republic protested the offer of asylum, alarmed at the risk of sheltering die-hard Marxist guerrillas like the MRTA. "I don't see why such a poor nation as ours should have to be solving other nations' problems, especially issues like terrorism. We have our own troubles," says Celso Marranzini, head of the National Council for Private Firms, a Dominican business lobby.

The Dominicans may not have to worry. Rebel leader Nestor Cerpa Cartolini told the foreign press Tuesday that the guerrillas planned to "stay in our fatherland and continue to fight at the side of our people." The rebels, who have been chanting slogans like "Victory or Death" this week, are also insisting that the government accept their demand to free hundreds of comrades jailed in Peru's notoriously harsh prisons. The issue has been the main stumbling block in negotiations since the siege began.

Meanwhile, congressional leader Victor Joy Way said Tuesday that if Fujimori were to submit a bill granting the rebels amnesty, Congress would approve it.

Talks, which have been ongoing for two weeks between Mr. Cerpa, chief government negotiator Domingo Palermo, and a team of mediators, were scheduled to continue yesterday.

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