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Update No. 96/1 on ICRC activities related to the hostage crisis in Lima

26-12-1996 Operational Update

 ICRC helps hostages ...  

On 18 December a reception given at the residence of the Ambassador of Japan in Lima rapidly turned into a nightmare for several hundred guests, including members of the Peruvian government and foreign diplomatic staff: a commando of the MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) seized control of the embassy and took all those present hostage with a view to inducing the government of Peru to enter into negotiations.

The head of the ICRC delegation in Peru, who happened to be among the guests, immediately stepped in to offer the institution's services to help resolve problems of a humanitarian nature arising from this crisis. He quickly succeeded in securing the release of some 250 women and elderly persons and about 50 men, including domestic staff. He later arranged for medical supplies, food and water and toiletries to be brought into the residence to improve conditions for the people inside. ICRC delegates have been able to draw up a list of remaining hostages (some 380 people) and have made it possible for them to exchange messages with their anxious families. The delegates are free to enter and leave the residence to carry out their humanitarian work. On 21 December 38 hostages were released under ICRC auspices, followed by another 225 who were freed on 23 December. To date, approximately 150 people are still in the hands of the MRTA.

... and acts as a neutral intermediary between the parties  

In this particularly sensitive situation which involves not only Peruvian officials, but also representatives of a number of other countries, the Peruvian government and the MRTA have asked the ICRC to act as a go-between in their negotiations, and with good reason: the institution's long-standing presence in the country has made it widely known and has enabled it to gain the trust of both parties which is essential to its present role. At present the ICRC is actively maintaining contact with both sides and encouraging them to keep up their dialogue with a view to solving the crisis. In playing this delicate role the ICRC does not of course assume any responsibility with regard to proposals passed on, decisions made or action taken. However, it did request the parties to guarantee that they would not resort to force or take any steps that may harm the hostages or hamper ICRC delegates'freedom of movement.

 Basic humanitarian needs: water and electricity  

Because of the lack of electricity, which is disrupting the water supply, hygiene conditions are deteriorating fast and the risk of infectious diseases is increasing. Drinking water has been made available in bottles but there is no running water to wash in or flush the toilets. Chemical toilets have been provided. The lack of electricity also has psychological side-effects: during the weekend total darkness in the residence exacerbated tension in the residence. In the ICRC's view, ensuring electricity and water is a top priority in humanitarian terms, and it has requested the authorities to restore both without delay.

 Medical situation  

The most serious medical cases have so far been evacuated but the incidence of minor diseases is increasing. Several people are suffering from hypertension, others from diarrhoea or ulcers and some from asthma. A number of hostages need diabetes treatment. The ICRC has been allowed to bring in desperately needed drugs and medical supplies. There are some doctors among the hostages who are helping the ICRC medical team to treat the patients. The cramped conditions and psychological pressure faced by the hostages are a source of concern. The release of a number of people at the weekend momentarily gave rise to hope for all, but the stress on those remaining in the embassy is increasing with every day that passes. 

 Relief assistance  

Over the weekend the ICRC delivered around 400 food parcels, providing all hostages with enough to keep them going for some time (because of the lack of water and electricity, it is impossible to prepare hot food and drinks). Clothes, underwear and leisure articles such as chess games, playing cards, etc. were distributed. 

 Link to the outside world  

Most of the hostages (313) have availed themselves of the opportunity to send Red Cross messages to their families or friends in Lima. The messages were checked by the MRTA as well as by the Peruvian police to make sure that only personal news was exchanged. More than a hundred hostages have already received replies. This service is very much appreciated by the anguished families, on whom the emotional stress is taking a heavy toll.

A reception centre has been set up in the ICRC delegation for the relatives of the hostages. The centre is run by delegates specialized in restorin g family links. Families are also allowed to bring clothes and specific drugs for their relatives held in the residence.

 Crisis set-up  

The ICRC has been assisting the hostages throughout the week. Beside the head of delegation, four other delegates, including a doctor and a nurse, have had regular access to the hostages. Three ICRC delegates based in Bogotà and Buenos Aires have flown to Lima to help meet the needs arising from the situation. A crisis unit has been set up at ICRC headquarters in Geneva. It is in constant contact with the delegation in Lima and is closely following developments.

In addition, the Japanese Red Cross Society is sending a medical team to Lima to work alongside the ICRC. The team comprises one doctor and two nurses, one translator and the Director of Development and Cooperation, and is expected to arrive in Lima on Monday.    

 The ICRC's work in Peru  

The ICRC has been working in Peru on a permanent basis since 1984. At present it is visiting over 4,000 security detainees, including imprisoned members of the MRTA, to check on their conditions of detention and treatment. Delegates also regularly provide medical and relief assistance to the inhabitants of conflict zones, and seek to ensure their protection.

The ICRC thanks donors for their support and urges others to forward cash contributions to this operation without delay.