December 5, 2008 / 6:27 AM / 10 years ago

"Shining Path" leader seeks new trial

LIMA (Reuters) - Lawyers for Peruvian leftist Abimael Guzman, the imprisoned leader of the brutal Shining Path insurgency, said on Thursday they have filed a suit demanding he be retried in an international court.

Relatives of Shining Path's victims stand outside the high security naval prison in Callao October 13, 2006, where Shining Path guerrilla leader Abimael Guzman is being held. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Alfredo Crespo, the lead attorney for the Maoist revolutionary, said a civilian trial that sentenced Guzman to life in prison in 2006 was flawed and ignored basic legal protections.

The lawyers have filed a claim with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, hoping to win a retrial for Guzman, 74, his partner, Elena Iparraguirre, and several other imprisoned members of the guerrilla group.

Crespo said the 2006 conviction rested on erroneously defining the Shining Path as a terrorist group and criminal organisation, while its members say they belonged to the armed wing of the Communist Party of Peru.

“They took up arms for political reasons, to change the country, but they weren’t a criminal organisation,” Crespo told reporters.

During two decades of internal conflict that started in 1980, more than 69,000 Peruvians were killed as leftist groups, led by the Shining Path, clashed with the military and vigilante peasant groups.

Some members of Congress are now pushing to pass a law that would grant amnesty to members of the military accused of committing human rights crimes during the war. If the law passes, Crespo said, it should be extended to include leftist insurgents as well, or else full political reconciliation cannot occur.

Guzman, a former philosophy professor, was captured in 1992 and quickly sentenced to life in prison in a military court in which judges wore hoods to cover their faces. Peru’s government later retried him in a civilian court, but critics have said that trial also fell short of international norms.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organisation of American States, was not available to comment.

Since August, President Alan Garcia has been sending soldiers to Peru’s coca-growing regions in an effort to destroy what is left of the Shining Path, which security officials say includes about 300 guerrillas who traffic cocaine.

Though the group has largely collapsed, the Shining Path has killed about two dozen police or soldiers over the past two months in a series of brazen attacks in the world’s second-largest producer of cocaine.

Crespo tried to distance Guzman from the recent attacks. He said the Shining Path has “fractured” and that the group carrying out raids in coca-growing regions is a splinter wing that sets its own agenda.

Reporting by Terry Wade and Marco Aquino; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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