Pinochet, who resides in a Santiago mansion and recently turned 89, could be placed under house arrest after formal notification of the charges which usually takes a day.

"General Pinochet was declared mentally fit to stand trial in Chile," Special Judge Juan Guzman declared on Monday after his defence tried to argue he was not competent to face the charges.

His lawyers plan to appeal against Guzman's decision.

In an earlier human rights case, Pinochet's defence lawyers successfully kept him from being tried when the Supreme Court ruled his mild dementia made him mentally incompetent.

The homicide and kidnapping charges filed on Monday relate to nine disappearances and one death that occurred in the 1970s as part of Operation Condor - an intelligence-sharing network of South American leaders who helped each other hunt down dissidents.

Torture and rape

The decision comes after a recent presidential commission provided an overwhelming indictment of Chile's "systematic use of torture" under General Pinochet.

The National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture found that 94% of people detained in the aftermath of Pinochet's 1973 coup reported having been tortured.

Pinochet (L) overthrew President
Salvador Allende (R) in 1973

One of the most common methods of torture, reported in more than a third of the cases, was the application of electrical shocks.
 
Of the 3400 women who testified to the commission, nearly all said that they had suffered sexual torture.

More than 300 said they were raped, including 11 who were pregnant when detained.

The worst period of torture, according to the commission, was immediately after Pinochet's military coup against democratically
elected President Salvador Allende in September 1973.

Pinochet denials

More than 18,000 people were tortured during the four months after the coup. Detentions were indiscriminate, and most of the victims were innocent civilians.

Another 5266 people were tortured from January 1974 until August 1977, a period during which secret military intelligence agencies took over the repression of left-wing dissidents.

Activists say Pinochet should be
punished for his crimes

General Pinochet has always defended his actions as those of a patriot who rescued his country from chaos and the threat of communism.

He denies all the charges against him and says if abuses were committed, he was unaware of the actions of mid-level officials.

In the 1970s, many Chileans actively supported Pinochet's government, particularly as the economy recovered and stability returned.

However, there has been a greater willingness to confront the past under the government of the present socialist president, Ricardo Lagos.