American Convicted in Peru

American Lori Berenson was convicted today of collaborating with a leftist guerrilla organization that had plotted a thwarted assault on Peru's Congress, but cleared of charges she was an active rebel militant in the group.

The civilian court found the 31-year-old New York native guilty of "terrorist collaboration" with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.

Berenson, who stood calmly while the verdict was read, was found guilty of aiding the group by renting a house that served as their hideout and posing as a journalist to enter Congress to gather intelligence with a top rebel commander's wife.

Presiding Magistrate Marcos Ibazeta instructed Berenson to stand while a court clerk read out a chronology of the case against her before a sentence would be handed out.

The verdict came five hours after Berenson, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, said in her closing statement: "I am not a terrorist."

"I am innocent of the prosecutor's charges of being a member of and a collaborator with the MRTA," she said. "I am not a terrorist. I condemn terrorism, and I say that in every case."

The prosecution has asked for a 20-year sentence.

There is little sympathy for Berenson in Peru, which still remembers the bloody war against leftist rebels that wound down in the early 1990s.

Justice Minister Diego Garcia Sayan said earlier that the government would respect the verdict and that Berenson would serve out any sentence in Peru — dimming hopes that she could receive a presidential pardon.

Five Lost Years

A spokesman for President-elect Alejandro Toledo, who takes office July 28, said he had no immediate comment on whether he might consider a pardon. But the spokesman said Toledo might discuss the matter on a trip to the United States next week to seek economic aid.

Berenson has served more than five years in Andean jails after the military convicted her for allegedly plotting a thwarted raid on Congress by MRTA.

Today's proceeding capped a high-profile trial in which Berenson adamantly proclaimed her innocence and criticized Peru's judicial system.

Prior to her statement, Berenson was led into the courtroom in San Juan de Lurigancho prison, flanked by two female guards in bulletproof vests. She wore a beige jacket and a gray turtleneck, with wire-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. Journalists and her supporters filled the room.

After Berenson's 45-minute closing statement, Mark Berenson flashed a peace sign with his fingers and said he believed in his daughter's innocence.

"She loves Peru, she loves justice. If there is justice in this country, this court will acquit her," he said.

Mark Berenson and wife Rhoda, who both attended the hearing, have fought a long battle to free their daughter. They have made powerful allies in the U.S. Congress.

Exorcising the Ghost of Fujimori

Peru had hoped Berenson's retrial would showcase how much its justice system has improved since the end of President Alberto Fujimori's 10-year autocratic rule in November.

Fujimori declared emergency rule in the early 1990s to fight powerful leftist guerrillas. He set up a system of hooded military judges who dished out tough sentences to suspected guerrillas in trials widely criticized as lacking due process. The government claimed the anonymity of judges was necessary to protect them against reprisals from rebel groups.

Berenson said she was used by Fujimori as a "smoke screen" to make himself appear tough on terrorism.

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