Peru's Fujimori charged with murder

Reuters -- 24 March 2001

by Jude Webber

LIMA, Peru - Peru's disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori faces murder charges over the massacre of 15 people by a paramilitary death squad in 1991 -- one of the Andean nation's most notorious human rights cases.

Attorney General Nelly Calderon presented charges against Fujimori to Congress late on Wednesday accusing him of being a "co-author" of the massacre in the Barrios Altos district of Lima, when party goers mistaken for leftist rebels were shot.

The attack, whose victims included an 8-year-old boy, was one of the worst rights abuses attributed to Fujimori's 1990-2000 regime.

"This is very serious," Daniel Estrada, chairman of a congressional sub-commission investigating the former president over allegations of murder, forced disappearances and terrorism, told Reuters.

The Barrios Altos charges are the most serious against Fujimori to date. The ex-president, in self-exile in Japan, was fired as "morally unfit" to rule last November in a corruption crisis sparked by his spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos.

He so far faces charges of dereliction of duty but denies involvement in any illicit activities attributed to Montesinos, who is wanted on a host of charges ranging from arms and drugs trafficking to running death squads and ordering torture.

Montesinos is in hiding, believed to be in Venezuela.

Fujimori has said he will not return to Peru, where he believes he would not receive a fair trial, and is protected from extradition in Tokyo by dual Japanese and Peruvian citizenship. The two countries have no extradition treaty.

Estrada said that if approved by Congress and an investigation were formally opened -- all charges against the ex-president must start out in parliament -- they could pave the way for a Japanese judge to proceed against Fujimori.

Barrios Altos blamed on Grupo Colina

The Barrios Altos killings were blamed on the shadowy paramilitary Grupo Colina death squad. The victims were partygoers allegedly mistaken for Shining Path rebels.

Jose Ugaz, the state attorney probing an alleged web of corruption woven by Montesinos, said last week Fujimori could not have failed to know about the squad and, as constitutional head of the military, should have curbed its excesses.

"They are charges of violation of human rights. We have presented evidence based on testimonies. We have studied everything carefully so that Congress can rule," Calderon told RPP radio.

Estrada said the charges -- and any arising from his sub-commission -- would be presented to the permanent commission of Congress. If it considered there were grounds to proceed, it would then charge Fujimori before Congress.

If that happened, Congress would then order the attorney general's office to proceed with charges. All that would take "maximum one month," he said.

Estrada's commission, which expects to conclude its work in the next 10-15 days, is investigating the Barrios Altos massacre, the kidnap murder of nine students and a professor at the La Cantuta university in 1992 and the murder of a former intelligence agent, Mariela Barreto, in 1997.

Grupo Colina, convicted in the La Cantuta casse, was allegedly formed by Montesinos to combat attacks by leftist Shining Path rebels in the 1990s.