LIMA, Peru -- A Peruvian judge has ordered ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos and 18 military officers to stand trial for allegedly executing three leftist rebels who had surrendered during a dramatic 1997 hostage rescue, judicial sources said Thursday.
Judge Jorge Barreto opened an investigatory phase of the trial against Montesinos, former armed forces chief Gen. Nicolas Hermoza Rios and 17 current and former officers for homicide, according to an assistant to Barreto who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The charges carry a prison sentence of at least 15 years, Barreto's assistant said.
A prosecutor filed the charges on May 24, alleging that three rebels of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement were killed after they surrendered during a commando raid that ended a four-month hostage standoff at the Japanese ambassador's residence.
The spectacular rescue operation grabbed the world's attention and made national heroes out of the 140 military commandos who participated in it. All 72 hostages were freed. One later died from gunshot wounds. Two commandos were killed in the raid.
The military maintained that all 14 guerrillas were killed in initial bomb blasts and the ensuing fire fight.
But prosecutors say that witnesses saw three rebels alive and in military custody during the raid.
The murder charges have sparked a public uproar in Peru, with some government officials and former hostages objecting to making some of the commandos face trial for carrying out their duty.
Montesinos was former President Alberto Fujimori's security chief and right-hand man for a decade. He is now jailed and awaits trial on dozens of charges, including directing a death squad.
Fujimori is living in self-exile in his parents' native Japan, where he has been granted citizenship.