The violent end to Peru's long hostage crisis leaves the guerrilla group that carried out the siege, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, with most of its members either dead or in jail.

For the Tupac Amaru, Peru's second-largest rebel group, the seizing of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima was from the start a last-ditch gamble.

With 400 members, including its top leaders, in jail, the rebels had carried out only a handful of actions in 1996, apparently saving themselves up through the year for this one spectacular push.

One year earlier, in December 1995, Peruvian police had frustrated a similar plan by the group -- an attempt to seize Peru's Congress.

"They were down before this gamble for the brass ring," said Alvin P. Adams, who served as U.S. ambassador to Peru until August. "Now they are probably weaker on the ground."

The deaths of the guerrillas at the embassy compound yesterday are unlikely to provide potent political martyrs for the debilitated group, said Adams, who is president of the U.N. Association of the United States.

Using the Spanish initials for the group, he noted yesterday that during the four-month hostage crisis, "There was not a significant rallying of the Peruvian public to the MRTA."

Admirers of the 1960s revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Tupac Amaru rebels burst onto the scene in 1984 with a machine-gun attack on the U.S. Embassy in Lima.

To publicize their views, they followed with other high-profile attacks on U.S. targets in Lima -- Kentucky Fried Chicken, Citibank and Kodak.

Although the rebel leaders tended to be middle class and white, the group borrowed its name from the war name of an 18th-century Indian rebel who was tied to four horses and torn apart at the orders of Peru's former Spanish colonial rulers in Cuzco.

In Peru, the rebels' nationalism did not prevent them from accepting aid and training from Cuba in their early years. They also cooperated with like-minded guerrilla groups in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Panama.

At their peak, almost a decade ago, the Tupac Amaru fielded about 3,000 guerrillas.

In a new twist to the Cuban revolutionary doctrine of liberated zones, rebel units took root in remote rural areas where they taxed farmers to "protect" trade in coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine.

But, here they crossed Peru's larger and more ruthless guerrilla group, the Maoist Shining Path.

In the early 1990s, the fight over the lucrative coca trade became so bitter that it seems likely more Tupac Amaru guerrillas were killed by the Shining Path than by Peru's police.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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