American's Case Advances in Peru

Associated Press -- 16 January 2001

LIMA, Peru - An American whose treason conviction was overturned by Peru's military court should now face a civilian retrial for collaboration with leftist rebels, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Lori Berenson, a 31-year-old New York native, was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 by a military court on charges of helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan a takeover of Peru's Congress.

But after years of pressure from the United States, Peru's top military court overturned her conviction in August, granting her a new trial by a civilian court.

Berenson has denied claims that she was involved in the takeover, which was thwarted.

After nearly five months of investigation and procedural delays, state prosecutor Maria del Pilar Ramirez said Tuesday that she had formally recommended that Berenson be tried as a collaborator, a charge punishable by a minimum of 20 years imprisonment.

Pilar Ramirez said her report would be evaluated by a Superior Court prosecutor who will decide whether to request an open trial.

Berenson's attorney Jose Luis Sandoval said Tuesday that the Superior Court could decide as early as next week whether enough evidence exists to move to trial.

Berenson's mother, Rhoda Berenson, said she is still hopeful the court will decide drop the case.

``I think a careful review is going to clearly indicate that there is no basis to go forward,'' she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from New York. ``We still hope the Superior Court would make that review and come to that decision. We have faith that the truth will eventually win out and Lori will be found innocent.''

Police said the plan to take over Congress was foiled by Berenson's arrest and a raid on a rebel safe house where she admittedly lived for a time in 1995.

Berenson maintains that she never knew her former housemates were members of the rebel group.

She was arrested in November 1995 on a bus with the wife of a top rebel leader. Sandoval said he testified during recent pretrial hearings that Berenson was unaware of the group's rebel activities.