Peru's Toledo: No Special Treatment for Berenson

Reuters -- 16 June 2001

LIMA, Peru - American Lori Berenson, awaiting a June 20 verdict in her Peruvian retrial on charges of collaborating with Marxist rebels, will not receive special treatment due to her nationality, the president-elect said.

``We aren't going to open the doors of the jails ... and what is valid for Lori Berenson is valid for all prisoners,'' President-elect Alejandro Toledo said late on Friday.

``There can't be special treatment according to nationality,'' Toledo, who takes office on July 28, told reporters.

Prosecutors are seeking at least 20 years jail for the 31-year-old New Yorker, who was sentenced to life in 1996 by a hooded military judge as a leader of the leftist rebel group Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).

The ruling was overturned last year and a civilian retrial ordered. Berenson denies all charges against her and says while she shares some of the MRTA's ideological positions, she did not actively assist the group.

But most Peruvians, who recall 15 years of leftist violence involving the MRTA and larger Maoist group, Shining Path, see Berenson as a ``gringa terrorist'' and say she deserves jail.

Toledo is due to head to the United States on June 24 to drum up support and funding. The Berenson case has caused friction in the past between Lima and Washington and a number of U.S. lawmakers have long lobbied for her release or pardon.

``This is an issue that will be on the table,'' Toledo said of Berenson's case.

Berenson's civilian retrial was ordered a few months before Alberto Fujimori, the Peruvian president who cracked down on rebel violence and instituted the military courts with hooded judges, was ousted in a massive corruption scandal.

Berenson's lawyer, Jose Sandoval, failed at the trial to have the presiding judge removed on charges of bias and alleged links with Fujimori's discredited regime, which controlled the courts and which he says used Berenson as a political pawn.

Despite big judicial changes since Fujimori left office last year, he says the retrial has been full of irregularities.

But asked whether Berenson was receiving a fair trial, Toledo said: ``As far as I know, yes.''