Peru Won't Free Jailed Foreigners

The Associated Press -- 02 June 1999

LIMA, Peru (AP) -- President Alberto Fujimori said his government will never allow foreigners convicted of ties to leftist rebels to leave Peru's prisons.

Among the foreign prisoners are New York-native Lori Berenson and four Chileans, all convicted of terrorism and treason and given life sentences for belonging to the pro-Cuban Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement rebels.

Fujimori's comments Tuesday night were a response to the suggestion that the Costa Rica-based Inter American Human Rights Court could order Peru to annul their sentences because the summary military courts that tried them did not give them due legal process.

The court is reviewing the cases of the Chileans and the Inter American Human Rights Commission is reviewing Berenson's case.

"I guarantee to the Peruvian people that these terrorists are not going to get out. They will not enjoy the privileges they are seeking. Their crimes were committed in Peru and they will be subject to Peruvian law," Fujimori told reporters.

A hooded military judge convicted Berenson, 29, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, on Jan. 11, 1996, for helping rebels plan a thwarted assault on Peru's Congress.

The government held secret trials for suspected rebels, claiming that civilian courts were releasing too many suspects because judges feared reprisals.

Berenson's parents have carried out a campaign to have her freed and U.S. officials have asked Peru to give Berenson an open, civilian trial.

Fujimori's term as president ends in 2000, but he is expected to make a third consecutive electoral bid for office.

He has earned a reputation for toughness against the rebels, allowing secret military courts to sentence thousands of suspected rebels to long sentences on scant evidence, human rights groups charge.

The war against leftist guerrillas has left 30,000 dead since 1980, but political violence fell sharply following the capture of top rebel leaders in the early 1990s.