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Pinochet lawyers to appeal house arrest order in Chile

Pinochet lawyers to appeal house arrest order in Chile

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) -- Lawyers for Chile's Augusto Pinochet planned Saturday to file a court motion to block a house arrest order against the former dictator on charges of kidnapping and murder during his 1973-1990 rule.

Pinochet, 85, who just recovered from pneumonia, has been seen as largely untouchable in Chile, which he ruled with an iron fist after ousting socialist President Salvador Allende in a bloody coup. Pinochet heard of his arrest in his rural residence in Bucalemu, 80 miles west of Santiago.

"He took it serenely," said retired Gen. Guillermo Garin, a close ally of Pinochet whose arrest was ordered Friday by Judge Juan Guzman for allegedly planning and organizing the deaths and/or disappearances of 77 leftists and unionists.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

The 77 were alleged to be victims of the "Death Caravan," a military squad that flew around Chile, particularly the north, in a helicopter in the weeks after Pinochet's Sept. 11, 1973, coup.

Garin said Pinochet's lawyers would file Saturday the motion to quash the arrest which human rights activists hope will lead to trial. No date has been set.

RUFFLED FEATHERS IN THE MILITARY

The order against Pinochet -- who will be formally notified Monday of his house arrest according to court sources -- has ruffled feathers in the Chilean military, which still wields enormous power behind the scenes in this South American nation.

Army Commander-in-Chief Ricardo Izurieta was scheduled to meet Saturday with Defense Minister Mario Fernandez. Navy Commander-in-Chief Jorge Arancibia said Friday the court's investigation of Pinochet was causing "critical" tensions.

For years, human rights activists have wanted to try the white-haired grandfather, but the nation's courts refused to open cases against him. It was not until January 1998, when the Communist Party filed a lawsuit against him, that crusading judge Guzman decided to investigate.

Guzman, who has traveled the country investigating the deaths of people believed killed by the military during the dictatorship, is now probing more than 180 lawsuits against Pinochet.

More than 3,000 people died or disappeared under Pinochet's authoritarian regime in which witch hunts of leftists were not uncommon. Tens of thousands of Chileans fled the country rather than live under the military.

ARREST ORDER CAUGHT CHILE BY SURPRISE

Guzman's latest order caught Chile by surprise because Pinochet was first expected to undergo psychological exams, legally required in Chile for anyone over 70 who faces a trial.

A date for the tests has not been disclosed. Pinochet cannot be tried if they show he is mentally ill.

In March this year, Pinochet returned to Chile from Britain where he spent 503 days under house arrest near London.

In October 1998, police detained him in Britain at the request of a Spanish judge who wanted to try him on charges of torture. He escaped extradition to Madrid after Britain ruled he was too old and sick to be tried in Spain.

Also, in Argentina, courts are probing human rights abuses for possible links to Pinochet. Argentina has requested the extradition of Pinochet for his suspected role in the 1974 car-bomb murder of Chile's former army chief, Carlos Prats, who opposed Pinochet's coup.

Last month, an Argentine federal court sentenced former Chilean intelligence officer Enrique Arancibia to life in prison for planting the bomb that killed Prats and his wife.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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