Ex-president Fujimori back in Peru for trial

Disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori arrived in Peru for the first time in seven years under armed guard on Saturday to face charges of abusing human rights and stealing public money during his decade-long rule in the 1990s.

A day after Chile’s Supreme Court authorised his extradition, state television in Peru showed the police plane carrying Fujimori touch down at an air-force base in Lima.

Armed guards flanked the plane, from where Fujimori was to be taken to a police cell while he awaits the trial that could result in a 30-year sentence, meaning the 69-year-old might spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

Flag-waving supporters, hoping he will escape a lengthy sentence and mount a political comeback, cheered his arrival at the airport. His detractors were delighted that justice would finally be served.

“I am happy and satisfied. After so much despair for so long, we haven’t fought in vain,” said Gisela Ortiz, whose brother was murdered in 1992 by a government death squad.

The Chilean court extradited Fujimori on half-a-dozen charges, including the notorious Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres in the early 1990s, when Peru was at war with the brutal Maoist rebel group Shining Path.

Students, a professor and a child were among the 25 people killed in the slaughters, which Peruvian state prosecutors blame on Fujimori’s counter-insurgency troops that searched for rebel sympathisers.

After the court decision, Fujimori told Peru’s RPP radio he made “huge” mistakes while in government, but added that if he were put on trial, he would be absolved of wrongdoing.

He had been in Santiago since November 2005, when he was detained in Chile on an international warrant after flying in from Japan, the country of his parents’ birth.
He had lived in Japan since his government collapsed.

He was planning to revive his political career in Peru, where he served two terms as president and his party, Alliance for the Future, is influential in Congress.

Rallies, fears for safety

In Lima, the government of President Alan Garcia urged Peruvians to not let the pending trial of Fujimori, a polarising figure, become “an issue of division”.

Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, a member of Congress, asked the government to prevent a circus-like rush to judgement and said she feared for her father’s life.

“We have scrupulously planned for security to respect [his] human rights,” said Interior Minister Luis Alva. “We want people to be calm because the police are doing their job.”

Peruvians disagree about Fujimori’s legacy nearly seven years after his fall from power and both sides have staged rallies since Friday. For some Peruvians, he is the man who had the guts to stand up to Shining Path and send troops into the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima in 1997 to end a four-month hostage crisis.

He is also credited for ending hyperinflation that primarily hurt the poor, stabilising the economy and cutting tariffs to make imports more affordable.

Others view him as a corrupt despot who milked state funds for himself and his friends while wire-tapping political opponents.

Fujimori left office months into his third term when his government collapsed under a huge corruption scandal. He faxed his resignation from Japan.

Peru’s ability to ensure a fair trial will be tested in a case that marks the first time a former head of state has been extradited to his own country to face human rights charges, analysts said.

“This is a big opportunity for the government ... to show it can ensure Fujimori an efficient and fair trial,” said Guillermo Loli, head of polling at survey firm Ipsos Apoyo.—Reuters

Additional reporting by Pav Jordan and Monica Vargas in Santiago and Marco Aquino and Teresa Cespedes

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