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Berenson Testifies in Peruvian Case

April 6, 2001

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ A New York woman accused of collaborating with leftist guerrillas denied in court Thursday that her handwriting appeared on a rebel plan to attack Peru’s Congress.

Judge Carlos Manrique asked Lori Berenson to explain testimony from police handwriting experts that the writing used to scrawl names of congressmen and apparent numerical codes on the seating charts resembled her script.

``I don’t know,″ Berenson replied during the seventh day of her civilian trial before a panel of three magistrates. ``That explanation would have to come from the Peruvian national police and the handwriting experts.″

The sketch was seized from a hide-out of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

A secret military court convicted Berenson, 31, of treason in 1996 and sentenced her to life in prison for allegedly helping the thwarted Congress takeover attempt by the Tupac Amaru group, known by its Spanish initials, MRTA.

But after years of pressure from the United States, which said her trial was unfair, Peru’s highest military court overturned the conviction in August, leading to the new civilian trial that began two weeks ago on the lesser charges of ``terrorist collaboration.″

Prosecutors say Berenson rented a suburban Lima house in 1995 as a secret training center for the guerrillas and collected information about Congress while posing as a journalist with the wife of the group’s top commander.

Berenson declined to respond to testimony read Thursday that a rebel leader said she was a member of the MRTA. The group is most famous for its 1997 siege of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima.

Manrique asked Berenson to explain statements from a hostage during that siege who said he heard Rolly Rojas, an MRTA leader, say Berenson was a member of the group.

``This is the first time I’ve heard that statement in its entirety,″ Berenson said. After the judge reread the witness testimony, she replied: ``I don’t know how that happened, but in any case it seems to me something that is not verifiable.″

Rojas was killed during the military assault that ended the four-month siege.

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