Asylum Fight Heating Up Bolivia-Peru Tensions

By: Carlos Valdez, Associated Press Email
By: Carlos Valdez, Associated Press Email

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) - Bolivia demanded Monday that Peru hand over three former government ministers charged with genocide in the 2003 killing of dozens of protesters, and President Evo Morales called asylum an "open provocation of the Bolivian people."

Peruvian President Alan Garcia granted asylum to one of the former officials - Jorge Torres - in April and is reviewing requests from the other two.

The fight is worsening already poor relations between the neighboring South American nations, which have been at odds since Garcia, an economic liberal, and Morales, a leftist, won office in 2006. Morales vehemently opposes Garcia's push for a regional free trade pact with the European Union and is a strong critic of Peru's free trade pact with the U.S.

The asylum case involves a sensitive event in Bolivia, where soldiers sent to quell an anti-government protest in 2003 killed 63 demonstrators in the city of El Alto, a bastion of support for the leftist Morales. No charges were filed in the case until after Morales won the presidency in 2006.

Former President Gonzalo Sanchez Lozada and 17 of his former ministers have been charged with genocide, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Sanchez resigned after the killings and fled to the United States, where President George W. Bush granted him and two of the ministers asylum. Morales said Monday that he has asked for help from President Barack Obama to extradite the three Bolivians.

Other former officials, who call the charges a political witchhunt and say they can't get a fair hearing, have been fleeing the country before the trial begins May 18.

"Bush protected and harbored criminals and Peru's president cannot make the same mistake," Morales said over the weekend. He kept up the heat Monday, accusing Garcia of having a "lack of respect for the rule of law" and saying Peru should not be granting asylum to people accused of committing crimes against humanity.

Peruvian Vice President Luis Giampietri dismissed Morales' comments. "No one can tell another country to whom they should or should not grant asylum," he said Monday in Lima.

It isn't the first fight over asylum between the neighbors.

In 2007, Peru demanded the extradition of a former member of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement - a leftist rebel group - to face charges of terrorism. The accused, Walter Chavez, was working as a top aide to Morales at the time, and Bolivia denied the request, calling him a political refugee.

Peru also angered a Morales ally - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez - by granting asylum to Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales last month, rejecting demands that he be arrested and sent home to face corruption charges.


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