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Peru Seeks 20 Years for Berenson

February 21, 2001

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ A prosecutor has formally asked for a 20-year sentence for Lori Berenson, setting the stakes for the New York woman as she awaits trial on charges of collaborating with rebels.

Superior Court Prosecutor Walter Julian Vivas filed his request earlier this week, a spokesman from the prosecutor’s office said Wednesday. The 20-year sentence recommendation _ the minimum for collaboration _ was widely expected. Still, Berenson’s supporters had held out some hope that Vivas would recommend dropping the case.

``Naturally, we’re disappointed,″ said her father, Mark Berenson, said by telephone from New York.

``We know that if there is a trial, she will at least have a chance to give her point of view and that we suspect that when the truth is known, the world will see that Lori is innocent,″ he said.

The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student gained international attention when she was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 by a military court on charges of helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan a thwarted takeover of Peru’s Congress.

But after years of pressure from the United States, Peru’s top military court overturned her conviction in August, granting her a new trial by a civilian court.

Berenson, who has remained in Peruvian prisons under harsh conditions, denies she was involved in the takeover plot. Police said the plan was foiled by Berenson’s arrest and a raid on a rebel safe house where she admittedly lived for a time in 1995.

Berenson maintains she never knew her former housemates were members of the rebel group. She was arrested in November 1995 on a bus with the wife of a top rebel leader.

A court spokesman said the presiding judge in the case is on vacation and that the 31-year-old Berenson’s trial would not begin until the first week in March, at the earliest.

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