Chile clears way for Pinochet trial

A Chilean judge has formally charged former president Augusto Pinochet with homicide and kidnapping in one of many pending cases related to human rights abuses committed during his 17-year rule.

    The former general describes himself as a patriotic angel

    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.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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