US Citizen Berenson says sorry for Peru terrorism

Reuters -- 16 August 2010

LIMA - U.S. citizen Lori Berenson publicly apologized on Monday for collaborating with a Marxist guerrilla group during Peru's civil war and pleaded with judges to let her stay out of jail on parole.

It was the first time since going to jail about 15 years ago that Berenson, who was at court hearing, was seen on television speaking about her affiliation with Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.

"Yes, I collaborated with the MRTA. I was never a leader or a militant. I never participated in violent or bloody acts. I never killed anybody," she told a panel of judges.

"If my participation contributed to societal violence I am very sorry for this," she said during the televised hearing.

Berenson was calm and sounded contrite, unlike when she was arrested in the 1990s and shouted angrily at TV cameras while clenching her fists at her side.

Prosecutors say she should be returned to prison. She was released by a judge in May a few months before completing 15 years of a 20-year sentence. Parole in Peru is often granted after prisoners serve three-quarters of their terms.

Berenson, 40, told judges she does not pose a danger and wanted to live with her infant son, who was born while she was behind bars, in freedom.

"I want to raise my son to be a good man, this is the my aspiration now," she said.

A New York native who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming involved in social justice issues in Latin America, Berenson was arrested on a bus in Peru in 1995 and charged with belonging to the MRTA.

A military court a year later sentenced her to life in prison. At a second trial in a civilian court in 2001, she received a 20-year sentence.

Berenson's release provoked controversy in a country still traumatized by a conflict that killed some 70,000 people. The MRTA was active in the 1980s and '90s when a larger insurgency, the Maoist Shining Path, also tried to topple the government.

She was arrested by the government of former President Alberto Fujimori, who led a tough counterinsurgency and is now himself in prison after being convicted of human rights crimes, including ordering a death squad to carry out two massacres.

At the time of her arrest, Berenson was with the wife of Nestor Cerpa, who in 1996 led a group of MRTA rebels that took hundreds of diplomats and government officials hostage at the Japanese ambassador's house in Lima.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Terry Wade; Editing by Alan Elsner)