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Nuns face jail over 'terrorist school' protest

The two Franciscan nuns, who are also blood sisters, were sentenced last month along with 24 other demonstrators who entered the notorious School of the Americas, a US defence establishment which has trained thousands of soldiers from Latin America.

88-year-old Sister Dorothy Hennessey and Sister Gwen Hennessey, 68, will say goodbye to their friends and make their way to federal prison in neighbouring Illinois where they will serve six months' imprisonment. Their crime was trespass.

Figures trained at the school include the dictators Manuel Noriega of Panama, Raoul Cedras of Haiti and Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru. Lower-level graduates have participated in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote massacre of 900 civilians.

The sisters were arrested after trespassing for the fourth time at the school, at Fort Benning, Georgia, in November last year, along with 3500 other demonstrators carrying crosses bearing the names of people killed in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s.

"I think they picked us out," Gwen Hennessey said yesterday, explaining that their sentence was the maximum available. "Going to prison is not going to be easy but we will just think of our brothers and sisters in Latin America and what they have had to endure.

"My sister was offered house arrest rather than prison but she told the judge, 'I am not an invalid, I don't want to be treated any differently.' I think she is actually facing it better than the rest of us. She thinks it is one of those things that happen in life." The sisters - two of 15 siblings who grew up on an Iowa farm - have long been involved in peace campaigns. Sister Dorothy hiked across America in the 1970s to protest against the Cold War arms race.

They were inspired to campaign on Latin America by their late brother, Ron, who spent many years in Guatemala and El Salvador and recounted in letters the horror of the death squads. He was a friend of Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and wrote to them: "Please help stop this madness."