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Berenson to return to U.S. for first time after jail in Peru

U.S. citizen Lori Berenson attends a hearing which reviews her parole at an anti-terrorism court in Lima
U.S. citizen Lori Berenson attends a hearing which reviews her parole at an anti-terrorism court in Lima

LIMA (Reuters) - Lori Berenson, a New Yorker who spent 15 years in Peruvian prisons for aiding Marxist insurgents, will visit the United States as early as this weekend for the first time since her 1995 arrest, officials and her family said on Friday.

Berenson, 42, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, was paroled last year after serving most of a 20-year sentence. At the time of her release, Peru's government resisted calls to commute the rest of her sentence so she could return permanently to the United States. Peruvian officials say she must return to Lima by January 11.

Berenson's father, Mark, said he was grateful Peruvian authorities allowed her to travel and that she would return to Peru because she did not want to break the law.

"I'm glad she has a chance to be here for my 70th birthday," Mark Berenson told Reuters in New York. "I'm looking forward to being with my grandson and playing with him."

A student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming involved in social justice issues in Latin America, Berenson 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 behind bars, she became known as an accomplished baker, was shown participating in talent shows of inmates, and had a child with her lawyer, Anibal Apari, a former member of the MRTA.

She told Reuters last year that life outside prison was "much harder than I thought."

Her neighbors in Lima shouted insults at her after her release in a country where people are still 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.

"It would be nice if people didn't see me as the face of terrorism, but I can't change that. I live with it. It's not easy, especially because I don't think that I'm a terrorist," she said at the time.

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

(Reporting By Enrique Mandujano and Terry Wade in Lima and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)