Fujimori launches manhunt for Montesinos

LIMA, Peru, AP

Looking like a general directing his troops into battle, President Alberto Fujimori shouted orders to members of an elite police force, deploying them in a manhunt for his feared former intelligence chief. Vladimiro Montesinos’ unexpected return from exile in Panama on Monday has plunged Peru into political turmoil, and Fujimori was determined to put an end to it, taking personal command of the search for the man who was once his close aide. But Montesinos slipped away Wednesday as darkness fell over the resort town of Chaclacayo, in the foothills of the Andes 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Lima. “He has not been found but the operation will continue day and night until he is located,” a grim-faced Fujimori, dressed in a black leather jacket, told reporters who gathered around him on a dusty side street.

“One man alone cannot be allowed to create this kind of climate when we are in a process of transition.” The former spy chief — who has not appeared in public since his return — is thought to still command the loyalty of much of the military, and many Peruvians have speculated that he had returned to force a showdown for power with Fujimori. Earlier in the day, Fujimori ordered a “complete freeze” of the armed forces, confining them to barracks — apparently in case Montesinos loyalists in the army tried to come to his defense. Only minutes before Fujimori announced in Chaclacayo that the attempt to capture Montesinos had failed, the government agreed on a date to hold new elections for Fujimori’s successor. In Lima, an Organization of American States (OAS) delegation coaxed Fujimori’s government and his opponents back to the bargaining table Wednesday and hammered out an agreement to hold special elections on April 8. Fujimori had announced last month that he would step down in July 2001 — four years ahead of schedule — after a leaked videotape showed Montesinos apparently bribing a lawmaker. Fujimori promised new elections and said he would not be a candidate. Within days, Montesinos fled into exile. Justice Minister Alberto Bustamante said Wednesday that the government had withdrawn its demand that new elections be contingent on a broad amnesty for military and civilian officials accused of human rights abuses stemming from Peru’s battle with leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers. Opposition leaders and military analysts charged that Montesinos returned to use his influence to win laws granting amnesty from prosecution for himself and cronies who dominate Peru’s armed forces. Fujimori had endured an avalanche of criticism for letting his once-trusted aide flee Peru a month ago to escape prosecution. Fujimori said Wednesday he had urged Montesinos not to return to Peru, but instead to go to a neighboring country as a tourist. Now with Montesinos’ return, the president decided to hunt down the man who many say was responsible for his success in defeating leftist insurgencies — but who also is blamed for the dirty tricks and smear campaigns against opponents that tainted Fujimori’s election to a third five-year term in May.