Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Pinochet awaits court's ruling on house arrest


Chile's former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, remained secluded at his countryside estate on Tuesday, awaiting a court ruling on whether he will have to stay under house arrest while fighting new attempts to try him for alleged human rights violations committed during his 1973-90 regime.

Pinochet was indicted on Monday for the kidnapping of nine dissidents and the killing of one of them during his 17-year-long military rule. Judge Juan Guzman, who issued the indictment, also ordered him confined to his home.

But lawyers for the 89-year-old former ruler appealed, effectively freezing the arrest order.

On Tuesday, Guzman said he approved Pinochet's request to change his legal residence from his suburban mansion in Santiago to his countryside home, 130km southwest of the Chilean capital. He would serve out his house arrest there if Guzman's order is upheld by the Santiago Court of Appeals.

It was unclear why Pinochet sought the change in his legal residence.

"I will await the court's ruling" before deciding on the next step, Guzman said. The appeals court has no deadline to decide.

Guzman charged Pinochet as part of an investigation into Operation Condor, a joint plan by the military dictatorships that ruled in South America in the 1970s and 1980s to suppress dissent.

Pinochet's spokesman, retired General Guillermo Garin, said the former strongman was informed of the indictment, but was not given specific details about his legal troubles. His aides say this is necessary because of his ailing health.

"He didn't have any comments or rejection, which is in line with his health condition that keeps him rather separated from daily events," Garin told Radio Agricultura of Santiago.

The indictment is the third attempt to try Pinochet for alleged abuses during his rule, and appeared to set the stage for another difficult court battle for the former dictator.

In 2001 Pinochet was indicted in a different human rights case. But the Supreme Court dismissed the indictment after he was diagnosed with mild dementia. Pinochet also suffers from diabetes and arthritis, and uses a pacemaker.

Guzman, however, reversed that ruling after having court-appointed doctors examine Pinochet. He said while Pinochet's physical condition has deteriorated, "he is mentally competent to face a criminal trial in Chile." Pinochet's lawyers dispute that finding.

Also factoring into the decision, said Guzman, was an interview Pinochet gave to a Spanish-language television station in Miami last year. In that interview, Pinochet said he views himself as "a good angel," and blamed abuses on his subordinates. Guzman said Pinochet appeared mentally alert when answering the interviewer's questions.

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