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American Woman Accused of Treason Allowed to Make First Public Statements

January 9, 1996

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Flanked by police, an American woman on trial in Peru angrily defended the guerrillas she is accused of helping, saying they were revolutionaries rather than terrorists.

Peru’s anti-terrorism police presented Lori Berenson, 26, at their headquarters Monday for her first public statements since her arrest Nov. 30.

Accused of treason for allegedly belonging to the pro-Cuban Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and facing a 30-year sentence, Berenson indicated she expects to be convicted.

``If it is a crime to worry about the inhuman condition in which the majority of this population lives, I will accept my punishment,″ said Berenson, speaking in Spanish and surrounded by policewomen during the news conference, carried live on Peruvian radio and television.

``I love this nation,″ Berenson said. ``And although this love is going to cause me years in prison, I will never stop loving it. And I will never lose the hope and confidence that tomorrow there will be justice in Peru.″

Berenson, of New York, was arrested a few hours before a police raid on the guerrillas’ hideout in an affluent Lima neighborhood. Three rebels and a policeman were killed in the shootout.

The siege of the guerrilla safe house reportedly foiled rebel plans to seize Congress and take congressmen as hostages to gain the freedom of imprisoned guerrilla leaders.

The small rebel group started fighting Peru’s elected government in 1984 but was weakened eight years later when its leaders were captured. Never considered a threat to government security, the group is believed to have only a few hundred armed supporters left.

Berenson denied that the Tupac Amaru group was a terrorist organization. ``It is a revolutionary movement,″ she said.

At Berenson’s trial, Hugo Sayer, the commander of the counterinsurgency police, read a detailed list of her alleged illegal activities _ belonging to the guerrilla movement, coordinating its actions, helping distribute arms, renting property for the group to use and keeping contacts with illegal foreign arms merchants.

The list of crimes seemed designed to counter criticism that a foreigner should not be charged with treason.

Francisco Soberon, director of the Peruvian Human Rights Association, said Berenson and a Panamanian accused in the same case should instead be tried for terrorism, which carries a lesser penalty.

``They shouldn’t be tried for treason against the country, because they are not Peruvians,″ Soberon said.

In New York, Berenson’s mother called her daughter a nonviolent woman, and said the allegations her daughter distributed arms ``absolutely ridiculous.″

``I think her involvement was on an ideological level. She had said she thought the violence was a thing of the past,″ Rhoda Berenson said by telephone.

Berenson is being tried by a ``faceless″ military judge who hides his identity behind a screen to protect himself from reprisal. The trial is closed to the public. A verdict is expected this week.

Update hourly