Peruvian Army Mobilizes to Suppress Rebel Soldiers in far South
The Peruvian army mobilized troops in the far south of the country late Sunday to suppress a revolt by a lieutenant colonel and some 50 soldiers who had taken took control of a copper mine, army sources said.
In the latest twist in the country's political crisis, the rebel leader, Lieutenant Colonel Ollanta Humala Tasso, said in a statement broadcast by radio stations that President Alberto Fujimori was no longer a legitimate ruler and called on other members of the military to join his revolt.
Humala Tasso said the president's changes to the top command of the army, navy and air force Saturday had not eliminated the influence of former secret police chief Vladimiro Montesinos.
An army helicopter and trucks carrying troops left the towns of Tacna and Arequipa Sunday in pursuit of the rebel soldiers, who had left the town of Toquepala, where they had taken control of a copper mine, to head for highlands further east.
The troops are believed to have left Toquepala with a bus belonging to the company which controls the mine, and with three mine employees and Humala Tasso's commanding officer as hostages, army sources said.
Tacna province lies some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Lima, on the border with Chile.
The rest of the country was reported calm. A total of around 100 people gathered in two peaceful demonstrations in the capital to express support for the rebel officer.
In his statement, Humala Tasso demanded that Montesinos be brought to trial and said he and his followers would only lay down their weapons when there was a legitimately-elected president in power -- referring to Fujimori's controversial election to a third term in May.
Fujimori on Saturday had announced replacements for the top commanders of the army navy and airforce.
New military appointments were expected in December. The early announcement came after Montesinos' surprise return to Peru on October 23 had rumors that Montesinos loyalists in the military could move to undermine the civilian government.
Humala Tasso dismissed the shake-up, saying it is "not going to change anything ... they are Montesinos' people."
Opposition leader Alejandro Toledo had also said that the newly-appointed army chief and chairman of the joint chiefs-of-staff, General Walter Chacon, was a Montesinos supporter, but was quick to disassociate himself from the soldiers' revolt Sunday.
The rebel officer's stance "drew a clear difference between the top military command associated with President Fujimori and his former advisor Vladimiro Montesinos, and (Humala Tasso's) desire to restore prestige to the armed forces, and on that I agree with him," Toledo said.
But, "I am a defender of democracy, and I would never be able to share a position of that kind," he said, referring to the rebellion.
Montesinos fled to Panama on September 23, following the broadcast of a video in which he was seen handing a 15,000-dollar bribe to an opposition legislator.
The corruption scandal lead Fujimori to announce, after a decade in power, that he would end his mandate with early elections in which he would not stand as a candidate. Fujimori also pledged to dismantle the feared National Intelligence Service secret police, which Montesinos headed.
The widely-reviled police chief -- once a close adviser to Fujimori and among the most powerful men in Peru -- is believed to be in hiding at an unknown location inside Peru -- LIMA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)