March 27, 2002

Peruvians to describe atrocities at truth hearings

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) --Peru will hear first-hand accounts of murders, rapes and
massacres from two decades of war with leftist rebels that claimed 30,000 lives in
the 1980s and 1990s, the country's truth board said on Wednesday.

"It's extremely important to give a voice to those who have been silent," said Sofia
Macher, a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, adding the
unprecedented public hearings, to be aired on television, would start on April 8.

Peru is still scarred from years of massacres in mountain villages and car-bombs and
blackouts in the capital Lima that became all-too-common fare as rebel groups
Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, waged wars to
establish communist regimes in this poor Andean nation.

The commission, which was launched last year to help Peru come to terms with its
grim past, has so far gathered 2,000 unreleased accounts of what it calls acts of
"tremendous inhumanity." It will present a final report in July 2003.

The hearings are not designed to try human rights crimes, Macher said, but to
inform Peru about what really happened and to prevent similar abuses in the future.

One story to be told next month is the high-profile killing of seven journalists and
their guide who were axed to death in a remote village called Uchuraccay in 1983.

The hearings, to continue through 2002, would be similar to South Africa's public
post-apartheid hearings but would not carry any legal power or guarantee amnesty
for participants.

Pandora's box

The commission said it would avoid sparking an onslaught of public accusations by
asking those who told their stories to reveal names only in private.

"Silence doesn't help anything," commission member Carlos Tapia said, but warned
the accounts of violence the board had heard so far were shocking. "We are opening
and will open a Pandora's box."

Past violence is always a touchy subject in Peru and painful memories were
rekindled last week when a car bomb killed nine near the U.S. embassy days before
a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush. Macher said the hearings could help fend
off what some are warning could be renewed bloodshed.

"After this attack, we are afraid of turning back to the past," Macher said. "This
review ... will give us the lessons for today and tomorrow about how to confront ...

The government of President Alejandro Toledo, who took office last July promising
to crack down on state corruption that toppled the hard-line 1990-2000 rule of
former President Alberto Fujimori, says it is too early to lay blame for the unclaimed
attack. Some experts have blamed Shining Path.

Officials admit the rebel group -- which disintegrated after its leader was captured in
1992 -- is on the move in remote jungle and mountain regions, but play down its
military prowess, saying it counts only a few hundred die-hard members.

"What we want Peru to hear these stories, especially the young people who didn't
live through it," Tapia said, adding that testimonies could be used in schools and

    Copyright 2002 Reuters.