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Peru Hostage Standoff Touches Upon Present and Former MIT Students

By Thomas R. Karlo
Contributing Editor

The Dec. 17 capture of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru, by Marxist guerrillas holds ramifications for two people in the extended MITcommunity.

For both Lori Berenson, a former MITundergraduate, and Iliana L. Fujimori G, the outcome of the ongoing hostage situation has serious implications.

While the former remains in a Peru's Yanamayo prison serving a life sentence as a punishment for helping the same rebel faction now holding the hostages, the latter waits for news of a family member held captive by the guerrillas.

The rebels, from the Marxist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, captured the residence during a party celebrating the Japanese emperor's birthday, taking hostage around 500 guests, including international diplomats, their families, and other guests.

Over the past 22 days, many of the hostages have been released, with the remaining group of 73 hostages comprised primarily of diplomats. The rebels are demanding the release of 400 jailed comrades and free passage out of Peru. The heavily armed group has mined the grounds and roof of the walled residence, reducing the possibly of military action to free the hostages.

So far, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has refused to compromise with the rebels, living up to his reputation as a rigid authoritarian. Fujimori was elected to a second term last year after successfully reducing inflation in Peru and fighting terrorism, although he suspended the Peruvian Constitution to do so.

Berensons hope for peaceful end

Berenson, who withdrew from the Institute in 1988 as a sophomore majoring in anthropology and archaeology, was convicted last January of treason by a secret military court for allegedly helping the Tupac Amaru rebels.

Berenson was arrested in November 1995 before a group of rebels were involved in a shootout with police. The group she was connected with was allegedly planning to seize the Peruvian congress and take the lawmakers hostage. Berenson was accused of providing the rebels with a safe house, buying the food, and stockpiling weapons, charges she denied.

During the military trial, Berenson was not permitted to cross-examine witnesses or know the identity of the judge. The life sentence she received came as a surprise because government prosecutors only requested a 30-year term, the minimum allowed.

Both Berenson's parents and U.S.government officials have expressed concern that the trial violated her right to due process and have requested that she be given a civilian trial. With the advent of the current hostage crisis, supporters of Berenson have become concerned that the situation may endanger her chance for a fair trial.

"We are very distressed at the situation in Lima, and we are concerned for all those in danger for their families,"said her parents, Mark and Rhoda Berenson, in a written statement. "We continue to pray for an immediate non-violent resolution to this crisis."

Despite their concern for the hostages, the Berensons expressed their concern for the effect the situation may have on their fight to free their daughter. "Nevertheless, we hope our daughter's claim of innocence and her insistence on her internationally recognized right to a fair, civilian trial are not lost in the tensions surrounding these events."

It is not known if Berenson's name is among those whose release the rebels are currently demanding.

Fujimori's niece an MIT student

The other person at MIT with a large stake in the outcome of the crisis is a current student. The Peruvian president's niece, Iliana Fujimori is presently a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Fujimori also attended MIT as an undergraduate and lived in French House.

Among the hostages originally captured were the mother, sister, and younger brother of the president. Although Fujimori's mother and sister were later released, his brother - Iliana's father - remains in the residence as a hostage.

Iliana Fujimori declined to be interviewed for this story.