September 23, 1999
Peruvian leftist rebels protest harsh prison conditions with hunger

                  LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Three Marxist rebel leaders serving life sentences in a
                  maximum security military prison have begun a hunger strike to protest
                  near-perpetual solitary confinement in dungeon-like cells.

                  Victor Polay, chief of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and top
                  rebel commanders Peter Cardenas and Miguel Rincon started their protest
                  at midnight Tuesday.

                  "In permanent isolation, our brothers have been objects of systematic
                  physical and psychological torture," said a statement forwarded to The
                  Associated Press on Thursday by an international representative of the
                  group to announce the protest.

                  The naval prison in Callao is reserved for top leaders of the Cuban-inspired
                  rebel group and Peru's larger Maoist guerrilla organization, the Shining Path.

                  The prisoners are isolated in cells 6 1/2 feet (2.0 meters) on a side, with
                  walls 2-feet (0.6 meters) thick, built partly beneath ground level. The dim
                  chambers are illuminated only by a six-inch (15 centimeter)-square opaque

                  "My son says the silence is absolute day and night," Rincon's mother Nila
                  Rincon, 69, said. "You don't even hear the song of a bird. It's like a tomb."

                  She said the prisoners can't even see the guards who push their food on a
                  tray through a slat in the door.

                  The inmates get one hour outside daily in solitary shifts.

                  Polay and Cardenas have been serving their life sentences in Callao without
                  chance of parole since they were captured in 1992, along with Shining Path
                  founder Abimael Guzman.

                  Rincon, convicted in 1996, along with American Lori Berenson, of plotting
                  to assault Peru's Congress, was transferred to Callao more than a year ago
                  from the frigid Yanamayo prison, 525 miles (845 kms) southeast of Lima.

                  Berenson is serving her life sentence in isolation in Socabaya prison in
                  Arequipa 465 miles (750 kms) southeast of Lima.

                  One-hour family visits are permitted once a month.

                  Harsh prison conditions were among the grievances that leftist Tupac Amaru
                  rebels used to justify the seizure of the Japanese ambassador's residence in
                  Lima in 1996.

                  The siege ended with Peruvian commandoes storming the building, killing all
                  14 rebels. One of 74 hostages and two commandoes died.

                  There is little sympathy for leftist rebels among Peruvians. More than 30,000
                  people, including rebels, members of security forces and civilians, have died
                  since 1980 in Peru's battle with guerrillas.

                    Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.