Peru's Fujimori Asserts His Innocence

Seen at his trial on a press center video screen, Alberto Fujimori emphatically denies charges that he ordered kidnappings and massacres as president in the early 1990s.
Seen at his trial on a press center video screen, Alberto Fujimori emphatically denies charges that he ordered kidnappings and massacres as president in the early 1990s. (By Martin Mejia -- Associated Press)
By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

LIMA, Peru, Dec. 10 -- Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori on Monday erupted in anger during the first day of his trial on human rights charges, shouting that he had rescued a country on the verge of collapse in the 1990s and never ordered "any detestable acts."

"I reject the charges, totally!" exclaimed Fujimori, thrusting his index fingers into the air, after judges allowed him a brief statement. "I am innocent!"

Before the outburst, Fujimori had listened calmly as prosecutors accused him of ordering two massacres, in which 25 people were killed, and two kidnappings.

He denied involvement and said that his government respected human rights, despite grave threats from Maoist insurgents. If convicted of the most serious of the charges, he faces up to 30 years in prison and $33 million in fines.

When Fujimori began his decade-long presidency in 1990, Peru faced a violent insurgency by Shining Path guerrillas who had killed thousands and terrorized large parts of the countryside. The economy was in ruins, plagued by hyperinflation.

Soon after he was elected, Fujimori launched an aggressive battle against the Shining Path -- a campaign that prosecutors said Monday trampled the rights of citizens in the name of security.

The trial has stirred mixed emotions among many in Peru, where opinion polls suggest that most people believe Fujimori is guilty of abuses but also view his presidency favorably overall.

"Because of my government, the human rights of 25 million Peruvians were rescued, without exceptions!" shouted Fujimori, a 69-year-old former college professor who normally projects a demeanor of stern calm. "If any detestable acts were committed, I condemn them. But they were not done on my orders!"

Before Fujimori addressed the court, prosecutors said they planned to prove that he had overseen a paramilitary security force that killed 15 people at a party in the Lima neighborhood of Barrios Altos in 1991 and nine students and a professor at the La Cantuta teachers college the following year.

Former members of that squad, called the Colina Group, are among the dozens of witnesses expected to testify during the trial. Prosecutors also plan to present declassified documents from the U.S. State Department that they said suggest Fujimori was behind the abuses of his government.

Prosecutor Jos¿ Pel¿ez Bardales said Fujimori was aware of all of the killings by the Colina Group and was briefed on the group's actions by Vladimiro Montesinos, his security chief at the time, who is also expected to testify.

"There was a clear chain of command from Fujimori to the executioners," Pel¿ez said.

Fujimori's attorney, C¿sar Nakazaki, told the three-judge panel that former army commanders will testify that the military -- not Fujimori -- created the Colina Group during a meeting in June 1991 and oversaw its actions.

Fujimori sat at a desk in the middle of the courtroom, calmly taking notes and listening to the lawyers. Three of his children sat behind a wall with large windows at the back of the courtroom, along with family members of victims of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta slayings. Outside the police headquarters that is housing the trial, groups of Fujimori supporters and opponents marched and waved banners.

The trial is the culmination of a long, post-presidential odyssey for Fujimori that began when he fled the country in 2000 following allegations of corruption and faxed his resignation from Japan, the birthplace of his parents. Despite a warrant for his arrest, he lived in exile in Tokyo until November 2005, when he attempted to quietly return to Peru to run for president in the 2006 elections. He was arrested in Chile and extradited to Peru in September to face trial.

In addition to the human rights charges, Fujimori will face charges of corruption in separate proceedings.

Fujimori's outburst was immediately followed by a lunch recess, but judges canceled the trial's afternoon session after a court doctor said the former president was suffering from symptoms of chronic high blood pressure. Proceedings are scheduled to resume Wednesday.

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