Freed U.S. citizen Berenson seeks to leave Peru

LIMA (Reuters) - U.S. citizen Lori Berenson, freed on parole last week from a Peruvian prison, has asked for her 20-year sentence to be reduced so she can return to the United States.

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Berenson, 40, had been in jail since being arrested on a bus in Peru in 1995 on charges of belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.

A military court a year later sentenced her to life in prison. At a second trial in a civilian court in 2001, she received a 20-year sentence. Berenson told her retrial she was not a terrorist and condemned terrorism.

Berenson, a native New Yorker who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also asked for forgiveness from the country in the letter sent to President Alan Garcia, the government in Lima said on Sunday.

“(She) has submitted the document asking for the country’s forgiveness and asking the president for the sentence to be commuted,” Justice Minister Victor Garcia Toma told local radio, adding the government had proposed Berenson’s sentence be reduced.

“(Commuting the sentence) means it has been served and because it involves a foreigner it means she would be immediately expelled from the country,” he said. “It is up to President Garcia to decide whether to accept the commutation or take another decision.”

Berenson’s release provoked controversy in a country still traumatized by a conflict that killed some 70,000 people. The MRTA was active in the 1980s and ‘90s when a larger insurgency, the Maoist Shining Path, also tried to topple the government.

Protesters have gathered outside the building where she has been staying in a residential area of the capital, Lima, lighting candles and demanding she leave the country.

“Her presence causes bad feeling, indignation ... and that could put her at risk,” the minister said.

Berenson was arrested by the government of former President Alberto Fujimori, who led a tough counterinsurgency and is now in prison after being convicted of human rights crimes, including ordering a death squad to carry out two massacres.

At the time of her arrest, Berenson was with the wife of Nestor Cerpa, who in 1996 led a group of MRTA rebels that took hundreds of diplomats and government officials hostage at the Japanese ambassador’s house in Lima.

Reporting by Marco Aquino, Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Peter Cooney