Fri, Jan 13, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Court lays path for Pinochet trial

AFP , SANTIAGO

A Chilean court on Wednesday stripped former dictator Augusto Pinochet of legal immunity in a human rights case, but also ruled that he could be released on bail from house arrest pending trial in another case.

Pinochet, 90, can now be put on trial for responsibility in two murders by the "Caravan of Death," a band of soldiers who conducted extra-judicial killings in the months after the 1973 coup that brought him to power.

In 2002, the Supreme Court dropped an earlier attempt to try Pinochet on the "Caravan of Death" case, arguing that mild dementia hindered his ability to defend himself.

But on Wednesday, the appeals court voted 17 to six to approve a request to remove Pinochet's immunity in the case and allow him to be tried for the killings of two political prisoners -- Wagner Salinas and Francisco Lara -- detained in Curico on Sept. 11, 1973, the day of the military coup.

Both were taken to Santiago and were shot dead on Oct. 5, according to an attorney for the men's families, Hugo Gutierrez.

The immunity that Pinochet enjoyed as a former president had already been lifted on four previous occasions, including an investigation of the 1975 "Operation Colombo" in which 119 leftists disappeared and are thought to have been killed.

The Santiago appeals court also upheld a lower court ruling that Pinochet could be released on bail from house arrest pending trial in the "Operation Colombo" case.

Pinochet's lawyer at first said that his client could not post the US$19,230 bond since most of his funds have been frozen in an investigation of secret bank accounts in which he allegedly accumulated US$27 million.

But an aide said by the afternoon Pinochet posted bail and drove out to his coastal estate.

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