Secret military court sentences Guzman to life

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ABIMAEL GUZMAN, leader of Peru's Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) organisation, was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday after being found guilty of treason by a military tribunal, writes Colin Harding.

The trial was been held under conditions of the strictest secrecy in an island naval base off the Peruvian coast, and no details of proceedings have been made public - except that Guzman was held in a 5ft by 5ft steel cage during the hearings. But President Alberto Fujimori had indicated what the verdict and sentence would be soon after Guzman was captured in a Lima 'safe house' on 12 September. Any appeal to the nine-man Supreme Military Tribunal is to be completed by next Wednesday and there will be no trial before a civilian court.

Shining Path guerrillas responded yesterday by killing at least four airmen in an attack led by a young woman on an air force truck in a street market in the La Victoria district of Lima. Two policemen were killed by an 'annihilation squad' in the northern outskirts of the capital.

In a message delivered to the Associated Press news agency in Lima this week, Shining Path warned Peruvians who have been celebrating the capture of its leader: 'We will freeze your laughter, and don't complain. Learn to suffer, learn to weep, learn to die.'

Guzman, 57, a former philosophy lecturer, is held responsible by the Peruvian government for the deaths of more than 25,000 people since he launched a 'people's war' in the remote south- central Andes in 1980. The insurgency has spread to every corner of this huge country, more than half of which has been under a state of emergency and controlled by the military since the mid-Eighties. The damage caused by 12 years of civil war is estimated at about dollars 22bn (pounds 12.7bn).

Guzman has made no attempt to deny his role in Shining Path, whose militants revere him as 'Chairman Gonzalo', and he has predicted that the war will continue until final victory even though he is behind bars. He has described his imprisonment as merely 'a bend in a long road'.

Guzman's lawyer, Alfredo Crespo, complained that he had not been permitted to prepare or conduct a proper defence and described the trial as 'a complete farce'. This view was echoed by a group of foreign lawyers sent to Peru to monitor the trial by pro-Shining Path organisations abroad, and Amnesty International expressed similar concerns. Last week the London-based organisation said that 'the conditions and procedures under which Abimael Guzman is being tried may fall short of international standards for fair trial'.

The authorities are unlikely to be troubled by such criticism. The detention of Guzman is regarded as a victory in a war to the death, and has been followed by huge search-and-arrest operations by the anti-terrorist police, Dincote. Hundreds have been arrested and a computer disk with thousands of names on it seized.