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The Independent, 23.7.99

Pinochet's generals fail in attempt to avoid trial

CHILE'S SUPREME Court has unanimously rejected the appeal of five retired military officers against being tried over the notorious "death caravans" that combed northern areas to kidnap and murder opponents of General Augusto Pinochet after he seized power in 1973.

At least 70 people disappeared in Calama, Copiap and Cauquenes provinces. The release of more than 5,000 pages of declassified US documents has shed light on Operation Condor, a clandestine effort by rightist governments to track South American leftists.

Chile's amnesty legislation does not apply to abductions. Last month, retired General Arellano Stark and four of his officers were charged with numerous kidnappings. Defence lawyers said that producing bodies and death certificates for so-called desparecidos proved they were not still kidnapped. But prosecutors showed that the dental records failed to match the victims', and the judges said all kidnapping charges still apply.

Relatives of the missing hailed the ruling to proceed with the case as a breakthrough, encouraging others to speak out. Prosecutor Eduardo Contreras called it "the happiest day in my professional career. This restores my confidence in the independence of these tribunals".

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