The Washington Post
Wednesday, August 30, 2000 ; A20

Fujimori Criticized on American's Retrial

From News Services

LIMA, Peru, Aug. 29 Peruvian politicians and newspapers today accused President Alberto Fujimori of caving in to foreign pressure after a court granted a
civilian retrial for an American woman jailed for life by a military court as a Marxist rebel.

But Prime Minister Federico Salas defended Monday's surprise decision as proof of the much questioned independence of the country's judiciary, telling reporters his
personal opinion was that Lori Berenson's case should not be reopened.

"What better proof is there that the government does not get involved in judicial questions?" Salas said.

Fujimori said that a military court was obligated to revoke Berenson's sentence and grant a trial because of evidence suggesting she was not a leader of a leftist rebel
group. The decision was "based on new elements" that indicate she was not "a head of a terrorist group but probably a militant or sympathizer," said Fujimori, who
had long maintained that the 30-year-old New Yorker played a leadership role among the guerrillas. Fujimori declined to describe the new evidence.

A military commission that Peruvians widely assume Fujimori controls said on Monday it had annulled the 1996 verdict that found Berenson guilty of treason and had
turned the case over to a civilian court.

The announcement came as a surprise after years of government refusals to allow a review of her case.

Berenson was sentenced--her family says with a gun to her head--by a hooded military judge for plotting with rebels of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary
Movement--known by its initials in Spanish as MRTA--to attack the Peruvian Congress. Berenson says she is innocent, and Washington has repeatedly called for a
civilian trial.

Normally pro-government newspapers lashed out at Fujimori, saying it was "shameful" to allow a military court to overturn the ruling.

The president was also criticized by opposition politicians and some members of his own Peru 2000 alliance.