Peruvian troops and paramilitary police Wednesday night stormed three prisons that had been seized earlier by jailed Maoist guerrillas in dawn revolts.
The inmates were holding at least nine hostages as well as weapons captured from the guards.
Unconfirmed reports reaching the Peruvian Interior Ministry late Wednesday spoke of as many as 50 dead in fighting between Peruvian marines and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) prisoners at El Fronton Prison on an island off the Peruvian coast.
A radio link between the prison and the mainland was lost late Wednesday after reports that gunfire continued there.
Inmates at the Santa Barbara women’s prison in the port of Callao adjoining Lima were overwhelmed Wednesday night by an assault by paramilitary police. Only minor violence was reported at the prison, where about 60 inmates had been holding the warden and two guards.
Troops and police were moving early today against about 300 guerrillas who had seized a section of the giant Lurigancho prison in Lima, the nation’s largest with about 5,500 inmates.
A government communique said at least nine prison officials were wounded in what it called coordinated uprisings by the jailed guerrillas as part of an attempt to embarrass President Alan Garcia on the eve of a meeting here of the Socialist International.
Garcia, a Social Democrat whose 10-month-old government has failed to make any headway against the Sendero Luminoso, ordered the armed forces to recapture the prisons after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday afternoon.
In announcing that troops were moving against the prisons, Interior Minister Abel Salinas said that Sendero Luminoso guerrillas had also killed “several policemen” in Lima street attacks Wednesday.
Bombs blamed on the guerrillas exploded at two churches and at the Ministry of Education without causing any injuries. A fourth bomb was found and defused in a women’s restroom at Lima airport.
The mood of Lima was tense Wednesday. Under a state of emergency that Garcia declared in February, the armed forces are responsible for security in metropolitan Lima, which is home to about six million people, a third of Peru’s population.
The Santa Barbara prison in Callao, an old mansion converted into a women’s jail, was taken by units of the Republican Guard, a paramilitary unit. First reports said that one prisoner suffered a leg wound and that the hostages were successfully recovered.
At El Fronton prison, where about 160 members of Sendero Luminoso are being held in a block called the Blue Pavilion, the terrorist prisoners wounded three people, took four hostages and captured at least three automatic rifles and a number of sidearms, Salinas said.
Members of a government-appointed Peace Commission went to the island prison in the afternoon to offer a chance at dialogue. Utter silence greeted their shouted appeals. An attempt by Peruvian marines to enter the prison by blowing a hole in the wall with dynamite was repulsed by the terrorists, using home-made weapons including lances and crossbows, according to government sources.
At the Lurigancho prison, the rebels overpowered guards and took two hostages, the government said. The army was ordered to retake Lurigancho, where a Sendero Luminoso uprising last October claimed 29 lives.
Sendero Luminoso, led by a renegade university professor, Abi Mael Guzman, who has said that he considers himself the world’s only true Marxist, has waged terrorist attacks in Peru for six years. Starting from Andean bases near the city of Ayacucho, the movement has spread to Lima and other major Peruvian cities.
Four soldiers died in a recent Sendero Luminoso ambush in the high Andes, near the mining city of Cerro de Pasco.
The guerrillas, whose rural bases have suffered in counterattacks by the armed forces, have rebuffed all overtures from Garcia, a 37-year-old populist who says he governs on behalf of Peru’s desperately poor majority. Instead, they have named him “Enemy No. 1.”
In the past, the Sendero Luminoso has variously staged bombing attacks against the Chinese, Soviet and U.S. embassies here. Wednesday’s attacks were the first against Roman Catholic churches, an apparent response to the Catholic decision to join an anti-terrorist front proposed by the mayor of Lima, himself a Marxist.
The scheduled congress of the Socialist International is the first meeting of the Social Democratic movement outside of Europe and is important politically to Garcia, who seeks social and economic reforms through democratic means.
A number of leading members of the group, including such prominent Social Democrats as Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, have already decided not to attend. Among those who are still scheduled to come here are Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.