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The Independent, 6.3.00

Chile president furious at parade of top military at Pinochet arrival. By Jan McGirk in Santiago

Chile's socialist President-elect, Ricardo Lagos, said yesterday that he was dismayed by the presence of so many of the military's top brass during the triumphant return of General Augusto Pinochet last week, revealing the depth of the divisions it has exposed.

Mr Lagos, who will be sworn in next week, vowed "to show the world that here we are a democratic country, where the authority elected by the people rules, and where the armed forces are disciplined and obedient".

Meanwhile, the reappearance of General Pinochet has come as a major setback for a fact-finding panel investigating the fate of Chile's "disappeared". Human rights lawyers and four representatives of the military were due to sign a controversial accord today at La Moneda, the presidential palace. After more than six months of wrangling, all participants had been hopeful that with General Pinochet back in Chile, the military would have no excuse to delay signing.

The accord includes an admission that rights violations committed under the general'sauthoritarian rule were not isolated incidents, and that following the bloody coup which ousted President Salvador Allende in 1973, Chile was not a democratic state. The wording of the document is cautious, but its object is to expedite collaboration and collect clues enabling families to unearth the bones of 3,197 dead dissidents who disappeared in notorious "death caravans" shortly after the coup.

Until evidence of these deaths is found, the victims are considered kidnapped, and no amnesty is possible for such an ongoing crime. Sources close to the Ministry of Defence said that for any officer to sign such a document would have been considered treason as long as General Pinochet was held by London. But after seeing the ex-dictator literally rise to the occasion, euphoric and energised, one of the human rights lawyers has backed out. Hector Salazar, who represents the families, was infuriated after watching the television images of black beret commandos protecting the ex-dictator when his helicopter touched down on a military hospital's roof. "It is a message to all the judges that Pinochet in Chile is untouchable," he said.

The Defence Minster, Edmundo Perez Yoma, postponed the signing ceremony. Now lawyers for the victims' families will insist on an important change. "The atrocious crimes committed must be sanctioned, without any amnesty law impeding the process," said Roberto Garreton, who also sits on the committee.

During the 503 days that the retired despot was held under house arrest in Surrey, the wounds of the country's dark past finally started to heal. Demands for General Pinochet to be tried in Chile came from both right and left. But the deep divisions are back, and the general's return has renewed fears that he will go unpunished.

Pessimistic political analysts like Ricardo Israel, a professor at the University of Chile, expect General Pinochet to reassert his claim that no repression occurred between 1973 and 1990, rather than offer weak excuses.

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