Berenson arrives home after time in Peru prison

NEW YORK Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:09am EST

1 of 4. U.S. citizen Lori Berenson (L) and her son Salvador Apari walk with Lori's mother Rhoda Berenson after arriving at Newark Liberty international airport in New Jersey December 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lori Berenson, a New Yorker who spent 15 years in Peruvian prisons for aiding Marxist insurgents, arrived home in the United States on Tuesday for the first time since her 1995 arrest.

Berenson, 42, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, was paroled last year after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence.

Berenson did not speak to reporters as she arrived with her son, Salvador Apari, at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. She was escorted by police officers and greeted by her mother, Rhoda Berenson.

"This is not a political time for us. This is a time for family and friends," Rhoda Berenson said. "Everybody is excited about meeting Salvador, so he's going to be front and center ... Salvador can mumble words in both languages."

A judge on Friday gave Berenson permission to travel abroad but she was turned back at the Lima airport by migration officials because she did not have a document from the Interior Ministry authorizing her to travel as a parolee.

On Monday, assisted by two officials from the U.S. Embassy, she went to Peru's migration office and was given a document allowing her to travel.

Berenson must return to Lima by January 11. Prosecutors criticized the ruling, saying there was little way to ensure sure she would return to Peru. Peru and the United States share an extradition treaty and are close allies.

At the time of her release from prison, Peru's government resisted calls to commute the rest of her sentence so she could relocate permanently to the United States.

Berenson was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming involved in social justice issues in Latin America. She was pulled off a bus in Lima 16 years ago and charged with belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, an urban guerrilla group.

The MRTA was active in the 1980s and 1990s when a larger insurgency, the Maoist Shining Path, also tried to topple the state.

While in jail, she became known as an accomplished baker, participated in talent shows of inmates and had a child with Anibal Apari, a former member of the MRTA.

Her neighbors in Lima shouted insults at her after her release in a country where people still are traumatized by memories of a long civil war that killed 69,000 people.

Berenson was never convicted of participating in violent acts but was found guilty of providing support to the MRTA. She says she was imprisoned for renting a house where MRTA members stayed.

A military tribunal initially sentenced her to life in prison using counterterrorism laws. She was retried in a civilian court and her sentence was reduced after pressure from her parents, human rights groups and the U.S. government.

(Reporting by Tara Cleary , writing by Michelle Nichols and Terry Wade, editing by Vicki Allen)

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