Peru says won't free U.S. woman
whatever court rules

LIMA, Peru Peru will not free a U.S. woman serving a 20-year sentence for terrorism even if the region's top human rights court orders it to, the nation's foreign minister said in remarks broadcast Saturday.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in Costa Rica is set to discuss Lori Berenson's case next Wednesday or Thursday, although it is not certain if it will rule then.

The 35-year-old New Yorker was convicted of collaborating with leftist rebels, and her attorneys have exhausted all legal avenues in Peru.

Berenson argues that her civilian retrial and sentencing in 2001, ordered after the annulment of her 1996 treason conviction by a summary military court, was unfair. She says she is innocent of all charges.

Asked what would follow if the rights court says she should be freed, Foreign Minister Manuel Rodriguez told Canal N cable channel: "I hope the Inter-American Court of Human Rights doesn't make that mistake.

"If this error were to happen, the Peruvian state, with judicial reason, would adopt the position of not freeing anyone accused of terrorism," he said in an interview from Chile late Friday and repeated Saturday.

The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student was arrested in 1995 and initially sentenced to life in prison under Peru's then-draconian anti-terror laws as a leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.

The Marxist group is best known for a 126-day siege of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in 1996-97.

She is not scheduled for release until just after her 46th birthday.

Berenson's court hearing in San Jose, Costa Rica, comes after Peru this month began retrying Abimael Guzman, the leader of Peru's deadliest rebel group, Shining Path. His treason conviction was overturned last year in the wake of a ruling from the rights court.

That trial collapsed in chaos after Guzman and other top rebels shouted communist slogans in court and two of the three judges withdrew. A new trial is expected to start within weeks.

Peru was ripped apart by Shining Path, the MRTA and the state's backlash in the 1980s and 1990s. An estimated 69,000 people died in the violence.

Public opinion remains firmly against Berenson and others convicted of terrorism.

(Additional reporting by Monica Vargas)


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