Peru interior minister faces murder investigation

AP News
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Posted: Jul 03, 2014 11:41 AM

LIMA, Peru (AP) — The newly named Peruvian interior minister says he has no intention of resigning despite a formal accusation he took part in the 1988 murder of a journalist as an army intelligence officer.

Daniel Urresti proclaimed his innocence to reporters Wednesday night, hours after an online news outlet revealed that the case had been opened against him last year.

The victim was Hugo Bustios of Caretas magazine, who was ambushed by soldiers in the Ayacucho region while investigating extrajudicial killings of civilians during the conflict with Shining Path rebels.

"I am completely innocent. My hands are free of blood. I did nothing and have the right to the presumption of innocence," Urresti, 57, told reporters.

According to court papers obtained by The Associated Press, Capt. Urresti allegedly headed a military patrol that ambushed Bustios and a colleague, who survived. Bustios body was then dynamited.

Two soldiers were convicted six years ago in the killing, one of whom alleged that Urresti was among the killers.

Last year, a judge in Ayacucho, Bladimiro Chuquimbalqui, approved the formal investigation of Urresti based on the testimony of two other soldiers.

Urresti acknowledged to reporters that he had been questioned by a prosecutor in Ayacucho.

At the time of Bustios death, Urresti was assigned to an army base in Castropampa in a region of nearly daily combat with the Maoist-inspired Shining Path, according to the court papers.

Prosecutors in Ayacucho refused to discuss the case by phone with the AP.

Urresti is a hard-charging former army general who recently led a government campaign against illegal gold mining in the Amazon that dynamited millions of dollars in equipment.

He told reporters that President Ollanta Humala knew about the charges when he named him last month to the post in charge of the country's police.

Bustios' widow, Margarita Patino, held a news conference Wednesday with human rights activists in which she demanded Urresti's resignation.

"Not only did they machine-gun (Bustios), but they blew him up," she said. "When I went to collect him he was in pieces. No human deserves that."

There was no immediate comment from Humala, who met Wednesday with his council of ministers after the report broke.

Humala is also a former army officer and also fought the Shining Path during the 1980-2000 conflict, which claimed nearly 70,000 lives, mostly civilians.

A truth commission blamed most of the deaths on the rebels but also cited grave rights violations by members of the security forces.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.