March 26, 2002

OAS rights court mulls Berenson case

                 LIMA, Peru (Reuters) -- With Peru insisting it will not reopen the case of an
                 U.S. citizen jailed for helping leftist rebels, the Organization of American
                 States said on Tuesday the region's top rights court would soon announce if it
                 would review the high-profile case.

                 "The court is deciding whether it's going to take (the case of Lori Berenson) or
                 not," an official at the OAS, requesting anonymity, told Reuters.

                 He said the case had been referred to the OAS' Costa Rica-based Inter-American
                 Court of Human Rights by its human rights commission, and that the court would
                 announce in May if it will act on the Berenson case.

                 If so, the court's ruling, which might include a retrial or release, would be legally
                 binding for Peru. Berenson's case was discussed last weekend in a closed-door
                 meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and President Alejandro Toledo.

                 Berenson was given life in jail in 1996 by a military court as a leader of the Marxist
                 Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. MRTA, along with larger
                 Shining Path, battled the state throughout the 1980s and 1990s in a conflict that
                 killed 30,000 people.

                 Berenson, a 32-year-old New Yorker, denies any wrongdoing and called the judicial
                 process "a farce from its beginning to its end."

                 Peru's top appeals court in February upheld the 20-year sentence Berenson received
                 in a civilian retrial last year, exhausting her legal options in Peru. That conviction
                 was for aiding the MRTA, which is best known for a 1996-1997 hostage siege at
                 the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima.

                 "There will be no pardon, sentence reduction, or any type of friendly solution for
                 Lori Berenson, because she was convicted in an exemplary trial," Justice Minister
                 Fernando Olivera said in a report published in El Comercio newspaper.

                 "This is an absolutely closed case," added First Vice President Raul Diez Canseco.

                 U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who traveled to Lima with Bush, said the U.S.
                 leader had brought up Berenson but did not directly ask Toledo for a pardon. He
                 added the United States would await the outcome of the Court's ruling.

                 Berenson could ask to serve the remainder of her sentence in a U.S. jail but has said
                 she will not do so.

                 Last December Berenson, who has health problems after serving time in freezing
                 high-altitude prisons, was transferred from a Lima jail to the northern city
                 Cajamarca, for what officials said were disciplinary reasons. Her family denied the
                 charges and said police assaulted her when she was moved.

                    Copyright 2002 Reuters. All rights reserved.