Clinton Urges Peru in Berenson Case

Associated Press -- 17 January 2001

LIMA, Peru - President Clinton has made a last appeal to Peru's interim leader ``for a good resolution'' in the case of Lori Berenson, an American facing terrorism charges, government officials said Wednesday.

Berenson, a 31-year-old New York native, is facing a civilian retrial on charges of collaboration with leftist rebels after receiving a life sentence in 1996 by a hooded military judge. The military sentence was overturned last August.

Clinton, who is finishing his eight-year-presidency this week, spoke to interim President Valentin Paniagua by telephone Tuesday night, said Paniagua's press secretary Mario Razzeto.

He said Clinton told Paniagua ``that before leaving office he was trying to show interest one last time in the possibility that judicial powers in Peru would use some mechanism to find a good resolution to the case.''

Clinton did not ask for Berenson's outright release, Razzeto added.

He said Paniagua assured Clinton that the courts would guarantee a fair legal process for Berenson.

In Washington, National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed the call by Clinton. ``The president expressed his hope that there could be a humanitarian outcome that puts this matter behind us,'' Crowley said.

A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Lima declined to comment Wednesday.

Berenson, who denies the allegations against her, has been held under harsh conditions in Peruvian prisons for more than five years.

A prosecutor this week urged Peru's Superior Court to try Berenson as a ``terrorist collaborator'' for allegedly helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan a thwarted takeover of Peru's Congress.

That must now be evaluated by a Superior Court prosecutor, who will make his own recommendation about the case.

She was found guilty of treason by a secret military court, which did not allow her to cross-examine prosecution witnesses or present an adequate legal defense.