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Jackson Urges Peru to Free Woman

September 9, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Rev. Jesse Jackson appeared unexpectedly at a luncheon for Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori on Friday, urging the leader to release an American woman who has spent nearly five years in jail in Peru for treason.

Jackson said the release of New York-native Lori Berenson would help improve U.S. relations with Peru, which has been criticized for a ragged human rights record and alleged irregularities in Fujimori’s recent election to a third straight term in office.

``I hope that somewhere the system can find the capacity to forgive her and free her,″ said Jackson, who made his comments as the Peruvian leader was taking questions from people at the luncheon. ``Such a humane gesture would be of benefit to everyone involved.″

But Fujimori, who was one of about 150 leaders attending the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York, responded it was Peru’s judiciary’s job to decide her fate not his.

``This is a delicate issue for Peruvians,″ Fujimori later told reporters, referring to Peru’s war against the Tupac Amaru and Shining Path guerrillas, which left 25,000 dead and devastated the economy since it began in 1980.

Jackson, a veteran civil rights activist, said he planned to visit Peru to make a ``mercy plea″ for her release, but that the date of the trip had not been set.

Jackson, who showed up uninvited to the event, added that he thought she did not receive a fair trial when a secret military court sentenced her to life in prison in January 1996.

Berenson, 30, was convicted by a military tribunal for helping leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement rebels plan an attack on Peru’s Congress.

Peru’s highest military court announced last week that it had overturned that conviction, paving the way for a new trial in a civilian court, a longtime demand of U.S. officials.

But state prosecutors have predicted Berenson will likely receive a minimum 20-year sentence in the civilian trial.

Fujimori largely stamped out the groups in the early 1990s using tough tactics and summary military courts to imprison suspected rebels.

``I am not making any accusation against Lori Berenson, but she was detained with a group that was going to assault congress,″ he said.

Asking for understanding from Americans he said: ``The United States has known terrorism with the attacks on the World Trade Center and in Oklahoma.″

Also on Friday, Fujimori proposed to world leaders at the summit that the bank accounts and other properties of drug traffickers be seized and the money used to help ease extreme poverty in developing nations.

He suggested that mechanisms be created to ``permit these evilly obtained resources to be confiscated for the benefit of poor countries,″ which he said are harmed most by drug production and trafficking.

Much of the world’s cocaine is produced in Peru, which also suffers from widespread poverty.

Update hourly