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Rebel Leader Sentenced to Prison in Peru

By CARLA SALAZAR
The Associated Press
Friday, October 13, 2006; 11:52 PM

CALLAO, Peru -- Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, whose messianic communist vision inspired a 12-year rebellion that cost nearly 70,000 lives, was found guilty Friday of aggravated terrorism and sentenced to life in prison.

The 71-year-old former philosophy professor stood impassively with his hands crossed in front of his waist as a court clerk read the sentence, ending a yearlong civilian retrial.

Guzman's longtime lover and second-in-command Elena Iparraguirre, 59, also received a life sentence. Ten other co-defendants from his inner circle received sentences ranging from 24 to 35 years in prison.

After the sentences were announced, Guzman reached over and kissed Iparraguirre's hand, then gave her a light embrace. His lawyer, Manuel Fajardo, told The Associated Press: "The sentence they have imposed on them constitutes a medal."

He said "history will provide their verdict in the end," adding that the court's ruling was based not on the law but on politics." He said earlier that appeals were planned.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Guzman was known to his followers as "Presidente Gonzalo," inspiring a cultlike obedience among a Maoist guerrilla insurgency that grew to 10,000 armed fighters.

"I am a revolutionary combatant and totally reject being a terrorist," Guzman declared as the trial _ his third _ began last year at the maximum-security naval base where he has been held since 1993. He refused to address the court when offered a chance last month during closing arguments.

Most Peruvians have little sympathy for Guzman, whose followers celebrated bloodshed in songs and slogans that declared blood was necessary to "irrigate" their glorious revolution.

The Shining Path bombed electrical towers, bridges and factories, assassinated mayors and massacred villagers, including 69 peasants in the Andean village of Lucanamarca, where nearly two dozen children were among those shot and hacked to death in retaliation for the killings of several rebels.

Guzman gloated about the massacre in a 1988 interview in the rebels' newspaper El Diario, saying: "Faced with reactionary military action, we responded with action: Lucanamarca."

Survivors from the village demonstrated outside the naval base Friday, demanding maximum sentences for the defendants.

"They killed them with machetes, stones, axes _ and for those who did not die in agony in this way, they even put them into a vat of boiling water," said Ignacio Tacas, a 35-year-old farmer.

A government-appointed truth commission in 2003 blamed the Shining Path for 54 percent of nearly 70,000 estimated deaths and disappearances caused by rebel violence and a brutal state backlash between 1980 and 2000.

Guzman tolerated no alternative vision _ whether from the political right or left _ for solving Peru's deep problems of poverty and unemployment. The Shining Path drove that message home by shooting activists, hacking them to death or blowing up their bodies with dynamite.

By the time Guzman called for peace talks a year after his 1992 arrest _ turning the tide of the insurgency _ guerrilla violence had displaced at least 600,000 people and caused an estimated $22 billion in damage.

Fajardo had argued earlier that the rebel leader should be granted amnesty or be released outright because of due process violations. "There are deaths in every war. The basic rule of war is to annihilate the forces of the enemy," Fajardo told the AP before the verdicts were announced.

A secret military tribunal sentenced Guzman to life in prison in 1992, but Peru's top court ruled the trial unconstitutional three years ago.

A retrial in late 2004 ended in chaos after Guzman and his supporters chanted communist slogans as television cameras rolled, and two of the three presiding judges stepped down under pressure over conflicts of interest.

When the latest trial began in September 2005, Pablo Talavera, president of Peru's anti-terrorism court, prevented more political theater by banning cameras and tape recorders from the courtroom.

The Shining Path faded after Guzman's capture, and for five years Peru has enjoyed relative political stability and sustained economic growth.

But rebel factions continue to operate in the coca-growing jungle region, where several hundred guerrillas provide protection for cocaine traffickers.

"At this point what we have in our country are the remnants of the terrorist organizations," Interior Minister Pilar Mazzetti said recently. She described them as disparate groups of several dozen rebels each that "have lost the insurgency capacity they had before."

___

Associated Press writers Rick Vecchio and Edison Lopez contributed to this story from Lima, Peru.

© 2006 The Associated Press