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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shots Ring Out in Peru Compound

LIMA, Peru -- Marxist guerrillas holding 74 hostages at the Japanese ambassador's home in Lima made their presence felt early Friday, firing four shots into the air under cover of darkness, police said.

"It sounded like four gunshots from an AKM [automatic] rifle," said a police officer on duty close to the site. "They're reminding us that they are still in there," another officer added.

The shots -- heard at about 2:50 a.m. local time -- were followed by silence.

No movement was seen inside the compound, stormed by about 20 Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, rebels Dec. 17.

Juan Carlos Mejia, head of Peru's crack SUAT police, said two MRTA rebels had been spotted in the rear of the compound before the shots were heard, the local Panamericana television network reported.

Mejia told the network the men fired two shots into the air, ran toward the ambassador's home and fired two more.

The rebels, who stormed a cocktail party at the residence 24 days ago, are known to possess AKM rifles and grenades and have booby-trapped and mined the compound.

Witnesses said police on patrol around the diplomatic mansion went to a high state of alert following the shots.

Two policemen could be seen lying face down behind a tree, their rifles pointed toward the residence, about 100 meters from the compound's main entrance.

It was the second time this week that detonations have been heard at the hostage siege site at night.

Two shots were heard early Tuesday as a man, presumed to be one of the MRTA rebels, ran across the front part of the compound toward the building.

The guerrillas are using their hostages to pressure Peru's government into releasing about 400 jailed comrades. President Alberto Fujimori has flatly rejected this demand and ordered the rebels to put down their weapons and free the hostages.

Talks between the two sides broke down Jan. 1 when a steady trickle of hostage releases dried up with the rebels holding top government and security force officials, Japanese businessmen and diplomats and Fujimori's brother, Pedro.

In an effort to relaunch contact with the rebels, Prime Minister Alberto Pandolfi said Thursday that they may be allowed to leave the country if the crisis ended peacefully. "In a timely manner, we will announce to the press which countries would be disposed to receive these men," he said.

Fujimori has stuck to his tough line against the rebels, lambasting them as "terrorists" bent on pointless violence, but has said he will not consider storming the residence so long as the hostages are not harmed.

He has said a "commission of guarantors" may be set up to oversee a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Earlier Thursday the rebels accused Fujimori of lying by saying they want ransom money.

They put a sign to an upper window of the residence that read: "Do not lie Mr. Fujimori. Money does not interest us. The demand is freedom of our prisoners."

Fujimori's government had urged Japanese companies with employees being held hostage not to give in to rebels' "blackmail." Although the MRTA has in the past kidnapped businessmen and politicians to raise money, there was no confirmation that ransom was their goal.