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Peru court grants parole to U.S. citizen Berenson

LIMA (Reuters) - A Peruvian court granted parole on Friday to U.S. citizen Lori Berenson after she served 15 years of a 20-year sentence for collaborating with leftist insurgents

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Berenson, who will turn 41 next week, was freed in May but sent back to jail in August when judges ruled her release was flawed because police had failed to confirm where she would be living in Lima while on parole for five years.

Her lawyer, Anibal Apari, who fathered a boy with Berenson while she was behind bars, said the ruling was legally sound. She is expected to leave prison in the next 24 hours, but is required to live In Peru until the end of her parole.

A New York native who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming involved in social justice issues in Latin America, Berenson was arrested on a bus in Peru in 1995 and charged with belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, an urban guerrilla group.

“This is absolutely illegal,” Justice Minister Rosario Fernandez said of the ruling, which she indicated the government planned to appeal. She said the decision set a dangerous precedent that would help convicted insurgents get out of jail early.

But Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde said, “The judicial decision must be respected.”

Berenson’s parents issued a statement saying the decision was expected to be appealed.

President Alan Garcia indicated previously he would like to send Berenson home to the United States, but that would require commuting her sentence in a case rife with political controversy.

The issue of her release been divisive in Peru, a country still traumatized by violent conflict that killed some 70,000 people.

The MRTA was active in the 1980s and ‘90s when a larger armed insurgency, the Maoist Shining Path, was also fighting to overthrow the Peruvian government.

In a rare public statement, Berenson apologized publicly in August for working with the Marxist guerrilla movement.

“Yes, I collaborated with the MRTA. I was never a leader or a militant. I never participated in violent or bloody acts. I never killed anybody,” she said at the time.

Reporting by Terry Wade and Marco Aquino; Editing by Eric Walsh