Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Chilean court clears way for Pinochet to be tried for abuses


Chile's Supreme Court upheld the indictment and house arrest of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet for nine kidnappings and one homicide allegedly committed during a long regime marked by human rights abuses.

The court's 3-2 vote on Tuesday cleared the way for Pinochet to be tried on the latest human rights abuse charges stemming from his 1973-1990 rule.

"The sentence that has been appealed has been confirmed," court secretary Carlos Meneses said, referring to Pinochet's appeal.

A small group of Pinochet supporters were removed from the court by guards as they shouted slogans interrupting Meneses' announcement.

The ruling prompted applause and cheers from gathered relatives of alleged victims of Pinochet's regime.

"We are happy, the entire world is happy," said Lorena Pizarro, president of an association of relatives of dissidents who were killed during Pinochet's reign. "Pinochet cannot continue to live in impunity."

Pinochet remained at his countryside residence west of Santiago, where he will remain under house arrest during the trial. He has been there recovering from a stroke he suffered last month.

Pinochet's legal team said it would ask the court for authorization to transfer Pinochet to the hospital if he suffered another stroke.

Retired General Luis Cortes, one of Pinochet's closest associates, said "what this situation is doing is to accelerate the death of a man who was president of Chile."

Presidential spokesman Francisco Vidal said the government does not comment on court rulings, "but we can say that this shows that we have developed a solid, stable democracy that can absorb this ruling with calm and tranquility."

In Washington, Amnesty International USA applauded the decision.

"It gives hope to the families that ultimately there will be accountability for the tragedies they've endured," said Eric Olson, the group's advocacy director for the Americas.

Tuesday's ruling upheld only the legality of the historic Dec. 13 indictment and house arrest ordered by judge Juan Guzman.

That order was questioned by Pinochet's defense lawyers, who claim the 89-year-old is unfit to stand trial because of his deteriorated health.

There was no immediate reaction to Tuesday's ruling from Pinochet's lawyers or associates, who now prepare for a new legal effort to have the charges dropped.

Guzman charged Pinochet with nine kidnappings and one homicide in the so-called Operation Condor, a joint plan by the dictatorships that ruled several South American nations in the 1970s and 1980s to suppress dissent.

Seven of the kidnapping victims were seized in Argentina, one in Paraguay and one in Bolivia, while one man was killed in Chile, according to the charges filed by Guzman.

The Supreme Court in 2002 struck down another indictment filed by Guzman against Pinochet on other human rights cases after doctors diagnosed the former dictator with a moderate case of dementia, a condition Pinochet's lawyers insist has worsened.

But judges rejected those arguments after seeing Pinochet in several situations, including a television interview with a Miami-based Spanish-language station in which he appeared lucid.

Pinochet has several other legal cases pending. He is being investigated by a judge after a US Senate investigative committee disclosed that he kept as much as US$8 million in secret accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington.

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