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Couple says daughter is no terrorist

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NEW YORK — The parents of an American woman imprisoned on treason charges in Peru say their daughter's only connection to the Tupac Amaru rebel group was that she felt deep sadness about the poverty she had seen in the South American country.

Mark and Rhoda Berenson spoke at a news conference in New York after Peruvian officials announced Monday that Lori Berenson's 1996 treason conviction in a military court was overturned and that her case would be heard in a new, civilian trial.

"Once we are able to get her out of that prison and get her back here, you'll be able to see what a wonderful person she is," a smiling Rhoda Berenson said.

Her father, however, remained indignant that his daughter would have to be tried again.

"It is not possible for Lori Berenson to have a fair trial in Peru under present conditions," he said.

Berenson, 30, was found guilty of treason by the secret tribunal in January 1996 for allegedly helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan an attack on Peru's Congress. Peruvian authorities say they foiled the alleged plan.

But her parents said Monday that their daughter's actions have been those of an activist, not a terrorist. The two said a passion for helping others has remained a constant throughout Berenson's life.

She volunteered at soup kitchens while growing up and as a teenager persuaded her family to adopt a foster child in Guatemala.

Berenson studied music and anthropology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 1 1/2 years before she dropped out and took a job with a Salvadoran human rights group in New York.

In 1990, she traveled to El Salvador and Nicaragua to pursue social causes. When she came to Peru, it was as a newly accredited reporter with two left-leaning U.S. magazines, Third World Report and Modern Times.

Peruvian authorities allege she used her press credentials to gain entry into Congress to interview lawmakers, but that her true motive was to stake out the building's layout.

After her arrest, Berenson accompanied police to a rebel hide-out, identifying the rooms she was familiar with, but denying she knew it was a rebel safe house filled with arms, her mother told The Associated Press in 1995.

Rhoda Berenson said her daughter apparently thought the house was an institute set up to teach grass-roots organizations techniques to young people from rural areas.

"I think that she really felt that this group was looking for social justice and that violence was a thing of the past," Rhoda Berenson said in 1995 after her daughter's arrest. "I don't think she had any idea of what was going to come about. This group misled her, or she misled herself."