Congressmen Seek Clemency for Berenson in Peru

Reuters -- 27 June 2001

WASHINGTON - U.S. congressmen asked Peru's president-elect Alejandro Toledo on Wednesday to consider clemency for Lori Berenson, a New Yorker sentenced to 20 years in jail for collaborating with Marxist rebels.

``We will consider that,'' Toledo told reporters after meeting with the House International Relations Committee.

But he said he would not interfere in a case that is still before the courts. Berenson appealed last week's sentence that would keep her in a Peruvian jail for 15 years more.

``I do not rule out anything,'' Toledo said, in his most positive comments to date on Berenson's plight.

Toledo, who takes office July 28, said the issue followed him wherever he went during a two-day visit to Washington, overriding talks on trade, investment and rebuilding Peru's democratic institutions.

At the committee meeting before he left for Madrid, it was New York Republican Benjamin Gilman who brought up the Berenson case and asked Toledo to look at the matter.

Following the collapse of former president Alberto Fujimori's authoritarian government last year, Gilman was one of more than 100 Congressmen who wrote a letter to Peru's new authorities requesting a pardon for Berenson.

President Bush asked Toledo to weigh humanitarian factors in the final consideration of the case when he met the Peruvian leader briefly at the White House on Tuesday.

White House aides did not say if Bush was asking for a presidential pardon or a reduced sentence in the appeal process when Peru's Supreme Court hears the case.

Both at the White House and the State Department, Toledo was told that the Berenson case will remain a ``permanent'' issue in ties with the United States.

Toledo said Berenson's case was entirely up to the Peruvian courts. He would respect the separation of powers and not intervene.

Berenson was first jailed in Peru in 1996 for involvement with an armed urban guerrilla group.

She was convicted last week in a civilian retrial of being a willing collaborator of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), an armed group that stormed the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in 1996.

One of the MRTA's demands was Berenson's release, before commandos killed the 14 guerrillas and ended a 126-day siege.