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The Financial Times , 15.10.99

CHILE: Detention of Pinochet 'aid' to democracy . By Mark Mulligan in Santiago

The detention in London of General Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator, had aided Chile's transition to democracy rather than impeded it, according to a report yesterday by Human Rights Watch, the international monitoring organisation.

The 53-page report dismisses claims by the Chilean government and traditional supporters of Gen Pinochet that his arrest exactly a year ago tomorrow on a Spanish extradition warrant had endangered the process of reconciliation between those who suffered under the 17-year military dictatorship and those who benefited from it or backed it.

"The apocalypse so widely predicted to occur in Chile unless Pinochet were freed has not come about," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch. "Indeed, Chilean democracy has benefited from Pinochet's prosecution," he said.

The report points to a new determination by Chilean courts and judges to circumvent Chile's amnesty law, which provides immunity to military and security forces for human rights abuses committed during the most brutal period of the dictatorship, between 1973 and 1978.

The Supreme Court earlier this year denied amnesty to five former high-ranking officers on charges linked to the disappearance of scores of political prisoners.

Meanwhile, a Chilean judge, investigating more than 40 criminal complaints against Gen Pinochet, is preparing a list of questions that the former dictator will be obliged to answer.

These cases, and the recent arrest of Humberto Gordon, a one-time member of Gen Pinochet's ruling junta, in connection with the death of a trade union leader in 1982, have shaken the armed forces and forced them to a negotiating table with human rights lawyers, church leaders and government representatives.

The US, too, has played a part by declassifying 7,000 documents by the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and other government agencies related to the country's involvement in Chile in the years before and after the 1973 coup.

The Chilean government, which has argued for the return of Gen Pinochet on humanitarian grounds, has insisted he will be tried by Chilean courts for his alleged role in the torture, disappearance and execution of thousands of Chileans.

Its stance yesterday again drew backing from Felipe González, former Socialist president of Spain, who said his country had no right to judge Gen Pinochet, given its own failure to investigate abuses during the rule of the late General Franco.

"We are doing to Chile what we never dared to do to ourselves. Why?" Mr Gonzalez asked in an article in the El País newspaper.

The issue has split political and legal opinion. Mr Gonzalez's own Socialist party, Spain's leading opposition group, backs Gen Pinochet's extradition, while the conservative Popular party of the prime minister, José María Aznar, opposes it.

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