Peru Military Mulls Convicted American's Appeal

Reuters -- Saturday, 20 Jan 1996 14:30:02 PST

LIMA, Peru, (Reuter) - A secret Peruvian military court will rule "at any moment" on the appeal of an American woman convicted of being a Marxist guerrilla, her lawyer said Saturday.

Lori Berenson, 26, of New York City, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of treason Jan. 11 by a "faceless," or anonymous, military judge for being a member of the pro-Cuban Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).

"It's a matter of waiting," Berenson's Peruvian lawyer Grimaldo Achahui said.

Achahui said he appealed the conviction and sentence Friday on the grounds he was not allowed to present a defense, there were "irregularities" in the handling of the case and the charges were beyond the jurisdiction of the military.

"Lori Berenson should be tried in a civilian court," Achahui said.

The military court comprised of three "faceless" judges now hearing Berenson's appeal has a choice of upholding, modifying or overturning the lower court's ruling, he said.

If the conviction and sentence are upheld, Achahui said he will appeal to the Supreme Court of Military Justice, the military's highest tribunal.

Berenson was transferred Wednesday to Yanamayo maximum security prison, Peru's special prison for leftist rebel, along with 25 others convicted of belonging to the MRTA.

At nearly 13,000 feet above sea level on the windswept southern Andean highland near Lake Titicaca, Yanamayo is considered one of the country's harshest prisons. It houses close to 500 leftist rebel suspects, including many leaders of the MRTA and larger Maoist Shining Path groups.

Berenson was arrested Nov. 30, in an operation that led to a fierce all-night shootout with police and the capture of more than 20 other rebel suspects, including the alleged No.2 of the MRTA, Miguel Rincon Rincon.

Peruvian anti-terrorist police said Berenson, Rincon and other rebels were planning an attack on Congress when they were captured. They said Berenson aided the MRTA by renting a safe house and transporting arms.

Guerrilla warfare has killed 30,000 people and caused $25 billion in damage in Peru since 1980.