LIMA, Peru – Former President Alberto Fujimori went on trial Monday on charges of using a death squad to kill leftist guerrillas and collaborators -- a case stirring mixed emotions in a country where many admire him for defeating a bloody insurgency.
It is the first time in Peru's history that a former president faces a public trial for crimes committed during his administration -- and one of the few cases of a Latin American leader being tried after leaving office.
A three-judge Supreme Court panel will review charges that Fujimori authorized an army death squad to identify and kill suspected Maoist Shining Path guerrillas and collaborators.
The trial is taking place at the police base on the eastern outskirts of Lima where Fujimori is being held.
Wearing a gray, pinstriped suit, the bespectacled Fujimori entered the courtroom exactly at 10 a.m., the scheduled time for the trial to begin, seconds before the three judges took up their seats. Fujimori took his seat at a small table with a microphone.
Three of Fujimori's four children -- congresswoman Keiko, daughter Sachi and son Kenji -- entered the courtroom before their father arrived.
Some 60 Fujimori supporters gathered at two entrances to the base, displaying placards of their leader in his presidential sash with the word "innocent" and chanting pro-Fujimori slogans.
"What they have to demonstrate here is if President Fujimori was the one who ordered the massacres or if he was the one who pulled the trigger," congresswoman Martha Moyano said before entering the courtroom.
Fujimori faces charges that he authorized the 1992 death-squad slayings of nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University, and the 1991 killings of 15 people in a tenement in Lima's Barrios Altos neighborhood. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of some US$33 million (euro22.53 million).
He also is charged with ordering the kidnapping of a prominent journalist and a businessman, who were interrogated by army intelligence agents and released.
Fujimori, 69, denies any involvement.
In later trials the judges will weigh whether Fujimori illegally used US$15 million (euro10 million) in state money to pay his intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos to quit, authorized bribes to congressmen and illegal phone taps, and secretly bought a TV station for political propaganda with state money.
A separate court will determine whether Fujimori ordered an illegal search of the apartment of Montesinos' estranged wife in which military aides posing as a prosecution team took away more than 50 boxes and 50 suitcases suspected of containing incriminating evidence.
Raida Condor, mother of one of the university students who was kidnapped and killed, said Sunday that she was ready to confront Fujimori.
"I, Raida Condor, mother of Armando Amaro Condor, his victim, will be there looking him in the face and asking him, 'Listen, why did you kill my son? What was his crime for you to kill him?"' she said.
Elected as a political outsider in 1990, Fujimori initially received tremendous support for his crackdown on the insurgents and his economic reforms, which ended hyperinflation inherited from the previous government and spurred record foreign investment.
But his government became increasingly authoritarian, intimidating news media, human rights groups and political parties.
In November 2000 he fled into exile to Japan, his ancestral homeland, as his government collapsed in a corruption scandal involving Montesinos, his closest aide. Montesinos himself is facing dozens of charges and already is serving various sentences, including one for 20 years.
In 2005 Fujimori moved to Chile, from where he expected to be extradited to Peru on minor charges, giving him hopes of eventually returning to a political role in Peru. But he apparently miscalculated since the extradition charges approved by Chile's Supreme Court included accusations of human rights violations.