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The Financial Times, 22.7.99

Retired officers to face kidnap trial. By Mark Mulligan in Santiago

Chile's supreme court has ruled out amnesties for five former officers of the Chilean armed forces, arguing that the charges against them are not covered by laws designed to protect the alleged authors of crimes against political dissidents during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

The court ruled late on Tuesday that there was sufficient proof that many of the political prisoners named in the charges against the five were victims of aggravated kidnapping, which is not covered by amnesty laws.

Retired General Sergio Arellano Stark, Pedro Espinoza, a former brigadier, and Colonels Sergio Arrendondo, Marcelo Moren and Patricio Diaz have been committed for trial for their alleged involvement in the kidnapping and "disappearance" of 72 political prisoners in September and October 1973.

It is alleged that Gen Arellano was sent on a mission to "facilitate the process" against the prisoners, who were being held in various parts of the country, immediately after Gen Pinochet and his junta took power in a military coup.

Mr Espinoza is already serving a sentence for his role in the assassination of Orlando Letelier, foreign minister in the government of Salvador Allende, which was removed from power in the coup. Mr Letelier and an assistant were killed in a car bomb attack in Washington in 1976.

Defence lawyers had argued that many of the victims were not "disappeared", but executed. They took their arguments to the supreme court after they were rejected by the court of appeals.

The latest ruling was welcomed by human rights lawyers as another sign that special magistrate Juan Guzman is determined to take action against alleged war crimes. It also follows claims at the weekend by Gen Pinochet that he often knew nothing of what his officers were doing.

Gen Pinochet, who was detained in London last October, is awaiting extradition proceedings to Spain, where he faces charges of torture and conspiracy.

Chilean government ministers have warned the former dictators' lawyers that his decision to go public could further complicate their efforts to bring him home on humanitarian grounds.

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