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Crisis builds over Peru jail killings

Garcia faces the military

By Michael L. Smith

The Times of London, July 3, 1986

President García of Peru is battling to regain the political initiative after he accused security forces of killing 100 imprisoned members of the Shining Path guerrilla movement during the suppression last month of jail mutinies in Lima.

This effort to restore his political fortunes and his image abroad has pitted him against the armed forces.

The political till includes the loss of the Justice Minister, Dr. Luis González Posada, who was responsible for the national prison system, and who resigned earlier this week.

Dr. González Posada, a close friend and adviser of the President, was not involved in putting down the mutinies, but he failed to prevent the imprisoned guerrillas from gaining a certain amount of autonomy within the jails.

However, political attention is now focused on the armed forces joint chiefs of staff, who had overall responsibility for putting down the revolts. The military have yet to explain fully how the killings occurred, or event to produce a full casualty list.

Three hundred inmates accused of terrorism rebelled in three Lima prisons on June 18, took nine hostages, seized firearms and barricaded themselves inside their cell blocks.

While delegates of a Socialist International convention were arriving in Lima, Señor García cut short attempts at negotiations and ordered the armed forces to quell the mutiny.

Within 24 hours, the military-police force were in control, but at the cost of at least 156 inmates' lives, and a good deal of Senor García's international prestige.

Almost immediately after the suppression of the mutinies, human rights groups and opposition politicians began picking holes in the official version of events, contained in communiqués issued by the joint chiefs of staff.

Gradually, Señor García shifted position from endorsing the use of overwhelming force to condemnation of what he called "a horrendous crime" committed at Lurigancho prison.

According to the President's latest version, the inmates at Lurigancho were armed with knives and lances, common in Peru's tough prisons, and had not "fortified" their cell block.

A special unit from the Republican Guard paramilitary police force broke through a cell wall and subdued the name. About a hundred prisoners were told to lie face-down in the courtyard and were shot by a separate police unit. According to independent sources, army troops were not directly involved in the action.

However, an army general was in charge of the operation and the military were also implicated in a cover-up.

Lima newspapers have reported the discovery of graves of the inmates, including that of the Shining Path ideologue, Antonio Díaz Martínez, as far a 75 miles away.

A human rights advocate, Señor Diego García Sayan, said the military prevented court officials from inspecting places where the mutinies took place, in violation of legal provisions designed to prevent excess.

Although 95 Republican Guard personnel were confined to barracks awaiting formal charges, and the commander of the force, General Andrés Máximo Martinez, was forced to resign and take early retirement, the rest test of President García's resolve to get to the bottom of the incident lies in making the military acknowledge their involvement.

Rivalry between the three branches of the national police force have weakened the military's hand, and given rise to leaks, which have spread the blame.

Señor Enrique Zileri, editor of Caretas, a weekly magazine which played a key role in breaking the news of the mass killing, said: "The real danger is a deterioration in relations between the President and the military, which could lead to a sabotaging of the Government."

Señor Francisco Sagasti, a social researcher, said: "Apra (the ruling party) has never known how to deal with the military from a position of strength."

Although President García has tried to reassert his authority, it will be hard to strike a balance between his belief in justice and the military's demand for immunity.