February 12, 2002

Jailed Peru rebel leaders stage hunger strike

                 LIMA, Peru (Reuters) -- The jailed leaders of Peru's leftist wars on the state
                 in the 1980s and 1990s have begun a hunger strike, demanding retrials and a
                 move to other prisons, rebels and officials said on Tuesday.

                 The six Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) rebel
                 leaders imprisoned in a tough naval base jail in Lima -- where former spy chief
                 Vladimiro Montesinos is also awaiting trial -- began their strike on Monday, said
                 Wilfredo Pedraza, prison liaison for the state human rights monitor.

                 "It's a peaceful strike ... they feel their demands aren't being heard," Pedraza told
                 RPP radio. He told Reuters he would visit them later this week to hear their

                 The strike was apparently the first time the jailed Shining Path leaders -- the group's
                 founder and ideologist, Abimael Guzman, his companion Elena Iparraguirre and
                 Oscar Ramirez -- had staged a joint protest with the MRTA chiefs, Victor Polay,
                 Miguel Rincon and Peter Cardenas.

                 The Maoist Shining Path waged a bloody war, punctuated with car bombs, to
                 impose communist rule on Peru. It crumbled after the arrest of Guzman in 1992,
                 but experts and officials say it has shown signs of small-scale stirring. The Marxist
                 MRTA is best known for a 1996-97 hostage siege in Lima.

                 A Shining Path rebel calling himself Raul told Reuters by cell phone from Lima's
                 Canto Grande prison that some 400 rebel inmates had joined the strike, and more
                 were following suit in other prisons. His comments could not immediately be

                 "We want the repeal of the anti-terrorist laws, new trials with the right to defense
                 and the closure of the naval base jail and Yanamayo (in southern Peru)," Raul said.

                 Disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori ended more than 15 years of leftist
                 rebel violence in Peru but his tough tactics included summary military trials for
                 alleged rebels.

                 He was fired in 2000 amid a corruption scandal sparked by Montesinos, and is in
                 self-exile in Japan, although Peru is seeking his extradition. Montesinos is expected
                 to face trial this year on a host of corruption and rights abuse char ges.

                 To date, only one person convicted by a Fujimori military court -- American Lori
                 Berenson -- has been granted a retrial. She is currently appealing the 20-year
                 sentence handed down by a civilian court last year for aiding the MRTA.

                 Neither the rebels' concerns nor hunger strikes are new but Pedraza said he
                 believed they had become exasperated at what they saw as a lack of progress.

                 The rebels also say they want to participate fully in the Truth and Reconciliation
                 Commission -- a state body set up last year to probe violence between leftist rebels
                 and state security forces that killed some 30,000 between 1980 and 2000.

                 Pedraza said the commission planned to interview the rebel leaders in March, but no
                 date had yet been set.

                    Copyright 2002 Reuters.