'Nobody Knows Who's Running Peru Right Now'

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Peru's immediate future remains murky, and there's still a strong possibility of a coup within the next 48 hours. Fired intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos is now reportedly holed up in the well-fortified headquarters of the feared SIN intelligence service, guarded by 800 commandos. President Fujimori now seems to be furiously backpedaling from his announcement disbanding the SIN and ordering early elections because he's been unable to win the support of the military, and that may have created a power vacuum.

Fujimori's predicament is made all the worse because the interior minister, the defense minister and the armed forces chiefs of staff are all loyal to the feared Montesinos. The general who commands the Lima garrison and the armored division also happens to be the intelligence chief's brother-in-law. In the early hours of Monday, Fujimori had driven from his palace to the "Little Pentagon" of the military high command , and according to some army sources he tried to win backing for his efforts to drop Montesinos but was rebuffed by the top brass. In other words, Fujimori found himself without the power or support to rid himself of his worst liability.

What's more, the military commanders basically told Fujimori to toe the line. And that's what he's done. Tuesday evening, the president held a staged press conference and said he'd be in firm control of the country until July 2001. He said he couldn't reveal Montesinos's whereabouts because that might put the intelligence chief's life in danger from drug traffickers and terrorists. There was no mention of Montesinos being fired or replaced or, as Fujimori had earlier promised, of the SIN being disbanded.

The crisis began when the president tried to fire the controversial Montesinos, who had been implicated in smuggling weapons to the leftist FARC guerrillas in neighboring Colombia. Washington, of course, is planning to spend more than $1 billion in helping Colombia fight the FARC as part of its anti-drug efforts, so it was obviously very irritated that Peru, which has been a key ally in the war on drugs, appears to have been a conduit for weapons to the guerrillas. Fujimori moved to ditch Montesinos when a videotape was leaked to a local TV station showing the intelligence chief bribing an opposition congressman to side with Fujimori. But it's not clear which man will come out on top in the battle to win the all-important support of the military.

There's still a strong possibility of a coup, even of a race between Montesinos loyalists and opponents within the armed forces to make a grab for power. Right now it's hard to determine exactly who holds power in Peru.