Berenson Trial in Peru Continues

Associated Press -- 9 April 2001

LIMA, Peru - A New York woman on trial in Peru said Monday that her request to be transferred to a prison wing alongside convicted guerrillas she is accused of aiding in a 1995 attempt to take over Congress was not a sign that she collaborated with the rebels.

Lori Berenson said she asked to be moved last September to escape constant noise from psychologically troubled inmates where she was being held in Lima's Santa Monica women's prison.

``There was too much noise and I couldn't concentrate,'' Berenson said. She added that her cell was uncomfortable for other reasons, including a lack of adequate bathing facilities and no desk for writing.

Berenson, 31, was brought to the prison last August after the Peruvian military's highest court overturned her 1996 treason conviction by a secret tribunal and opened the way for a civilian retrial on lesser charges of ``terrorist collaboration.'' That trial began three weeks ago.

The treason conviction was overturned after years of lobbying from the United States, which asked for a fair trial for Berenson. She is accused of plotting the raid on Congress with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, known by its Spanish acronym MRTA.

Prosecutors point to Berenson's transfer request as evidence of her sympathies for the guerrilla group. They also claim she led pro-MRTA chants in jail last March, which she denies.

Prosecutors say Berenson rented a suburban Lima house as a secret hide-out for the rebels and collected information about Congress by posing as a journalist and visiting the building with the wife of the guerrillas' top commander, who was posing as a photographer.

The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student denies the charges and says she never knew her housemates were Tupac Amaru members. Berenson has maintained that she entered the legislature as an accredited journalist to interview lawmakers for two U.S.-based publications.

``I never went to Congress to carry out the aims of the MRTA,'' she testified Monday.

Berenson was arrested in 1995 hours before police captured 14 MRTA members, including second-ranking leader Miguel Rincon, in an 11-hour gun battle at the house she had rented.

Berenson says she knew Rincon, by a different name, as a historian who sublet part of the house. She says he recommended the wife of the guerrilla leader as a photographer, and that she also used a false name.