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Berenson Pardon Hopes Take Hit

Peru's justice minister on Tuesday ruled out a presidential pardon for Lori Berenson a day after the Supreme Court confirmed the American woman's 20-year sentence for aiding leftist rebels.

"She is a proven terrorist, sentenced by the Supreme Court ... There is simply nothing more to discuss about the matter," Fernando Olivera said. "A presidential pardon is not under consideration."

Olivera did not say if he discussed the idea with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, who would decide whether to grant the pardon.

The Supreme Court, the country's highest court, on Monday upheld a lower court's ruling last June that Berenson collaborated with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in a failed bid to seize Peru's Congress in 1995. Berenson was acquitted of being a member of the rebel group.

Berenson, 32, has been in prison for six years and must now serve out her term until 2015. Unless she is pardoned or released by a ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, she will leave prison at age 46.

Her parents, Mark and Rhoda Berenson, said Olivera's stance would not derail their plans to petition Toledo for a pardon.

The lower court ruled that Berenson rented a house that the guerrillas used as a secret hide-out and posed as a journalist to enter Congress with a top rebel's wife to collect intelligence.

Berenson denies the charges and says she didn't know her housemates were rebels. She considers herself a political prisoner because her concerns for social justice were wrongly portrayed as a terrorist agenda.

A secret military tribunal had already sentenced the New York native in 1996 to life in prison for being a rebel leader. After years of pressure from the United States, the ruling was overturned in August 2000 and her case remitted to a civilian court.

Berenson condemned the Supreme Court decision in a statement released by her parents and said she was joining hundreds of jailed guerrillas in a hunger strike to protest prison conditions and Peru's anti-terrorism laws.

Her parents said they will appeal to President Bush to lobby for Berenson's release during an official visit to Peru on March 23 to discuss trade, drug trafficking and terrorism.

"We hope, of course, that President Bush will bring Lori home," Mark Berenson said.

Peruvian officials have not publicly ruled out the possibility of Berenson's case being discussed by Toledo and Mr. Bush.

Pardoning Berenson could damage Toledo's already low popularity among Peruvians, who see her as a foreign terrorist in a country that suffered through years of guerrilla violence.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, is reviewing Berenson's case. It could eventually reach the OAS court, which has the power to overturn her conviction. Peru is a member state of the court and must adhere to its rulings.

By Craig Mauro
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