Peru court frees 2 accused death squad members

By ANDREW WHALEN, Associated Press Writer

LIMA, Peru -- A Peruvian court freed two men accused of belonging to a military death squad linked to several massacres in the early 1990s, after the suspects completed six years in prison without a conviction, a court official said Tuesday.

The former military officers are on trial on charges of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy in the 1991 massacre of 15 people, including an 8-year-old boy, at Lima's Barrios Altos tenement, court clerk Daniel Luna told The Associated Press.

Under Peruvian law, prisoners must be freed after 32 months in prison if the have not been convicted. Luna said the court extended the term to six years for the two men because of the violent nature of the alleged crimes.

The Barrios Altos case went to trial in 2005 and a verdict is expected this year, Luna said.

The freed officers - Douglas Arteaga Pascual and Angel Pino Diaz - were charged in 2001 and are accused of belonging to a death squad known as the "Colina group." They deny the charges against them.

Barrios Altos is one of two massacres that ex-President Alberto Fujimori is charged with authorizing.

Fujimori, 70, is on trial and faces up to 30 years in prison for ordering the "Colina group" death squad to carry out a ruthless campaign against Maoist Shining Path rebels and suspected sympathizers. He denies having any knowledge of death squad activities or of ordering the dirty-war tactics. A verdict in that case is expected in March.

The Barrios Altos raid was an intended strike at suspected sympathizers of the Shining Path insurgency, which nearly crippled the government in the 1980s and early 1990s. Nearly 70,000 people were killed in the conflict.

Gloria Cano, a lawyer for Peru's human rights group Aprodeh, says Pino Diaz formed part of the nucleus of the Colina group and has not cooperated during the trial, causing delays. She criticized Peru's human rights prosecutors for failing to bring charges against Pino Diaz in 1992 massacres at the coastal towns of Pativilca and Huacho.

Arteaga Pascual was charged with providing faulty intelligence that led to the deadly raid on the wrong barbecue in Barrios Altos.