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Popular ex-Peruvian minister charged with killing journalist 26 years ago

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2014 file photo, Peru's Interior Minister Daniel Urresti talks with the press during the presentation of seized drugs at a police base in Lima, Peru. Urresti, a former army general, has been charged with murdering a journalist during the country's conflicts 26 years ago, prosecutor Luis Landa announced. Landa said in interviews published Sunday, March 1, 2105 by three newspapers that he is seeking a 25-year prison term for Urresti based on evidence that, as local army intelligence chief at the time, he was responsible for the murder of Hugo Bustios. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2014 file photo, Peru's Interior Minister Daniel Urresti talks with the press during the presentation of seized drugs at a police base in Lima, Peru. Urresti, a former army general, has been charged with murdering a journalist during the country's conflicts 26 years ago, prosecutor Luis Landa announced. Landa said in interviews published Sunday, March 1, 2105 by three newspapers that he is seeking a 25-year prison term for Urresti based on evidence that, as local army intelligence chief at the time, he was responsible for the murder of Hugo Bustios. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)

A retired army general widely seen as a possible presidential candidate has been formally charged with murdering a prominent journalist 26 years ago during the country's internal conflict, a prosecutor announced.

Luis Landa said in interviews published Sunday by three newspapers that he is seeking a 25-year prison term for former Interior Minister Daniel Urresti based on evidence that, as local army intelligence chief at the time, he was responsible for the murder of Hugo Bustios.

Bustios was a correspondent for the national magazine Caretas in the highland town of Huanta, the epicenter of a brutal dirty war with leftist Shining Path rebels. He was shot and then finished off with a grenade in November 1988 while investigating rights abuses, which were committed by both sides.

Two former soldiers have already been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his killing. One of them, Amador Vidal, earlier accused Urresti of involvement.

Landa did not return repeated telephone messages left on his cellphone. Nor did chief prosecutor Pablo Sanchez.

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In Twitter posts, Urresti insisted he is innocent, calling the accusation politically motivated and asking why he had not been formally notified.

President Ollanta Humala, himself a retired army lieutenant colonel accused of rights abuses, also suggested the charges could be politically motivated, noting that they came less than a week after Urresti joined the governing Nationalist Party.

Political allies of former two-time President Alan Garcia, who is also seen as a potential repeat candidate in 2016 elections, have significant influence in the Public Ministry, which handles prosecutions in Peru.

The Public Ministry issued a rare statement Sunday asserting its political impartiality and denouncing the "verbal attacks on the institution."

Urresti, 58, was the government's most popular minister before his replacement last month after his office initially claimed that police who fired on protesters opposed to oil exploration in the Amazon were unarmed. One protester was killed and more than 30 wounded.

Urresti was interior minister under Humala for seven months and is widely seen as a potential contender in 2016.

According to a government-backed Truth Commission, some 70,000 people died during the conflict, which lasted from 1980 to 2000.

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