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Tapes emerge as evidence against Chile's Pinochet

Pinochet
Pinochet  
January 30, 1998
Web posted at: 10:01 p.m. EDT (2201 GMT)

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- Tape recordings in which former Chilean strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet allegedly discusses killing his rival, then-President Salvador Allende, have emerged as new evidence in a campaign to bring Pinochet to trial for genocide.

Pinochet, who is still commander-in-chief of the Chilean army, seized power from Allende in a September 1973 coup, during which the Socialist president died under circumstances that still remain unclear.

Some 3,000 people were subsequently killed or disappeared during Pinochet's military dictatorship, which turned over political control to a democratically-elected government in 1990. The general has denied involvement with right-wing death squads believed responsible for the political violence.

On the 25-year-old tapes, allegedly recorded the day of the military takeover, Pinochet is heard giving orders to another high-ranking military officer, Patricio Carvajal, laying out an alleged scheme to murder Allende.

On the tape, Pinochet allegedly tells Carvajal to inform Allende that he will be allowed to live if he unconditionally surrenders and leaves the country -- but then tells Carvajal to make sure that the plane carrying Allende into exile comes crashing down while in flight.

If such an offer was made, Allende apparently didn't take Pinochet up on it. He died after army troops stormed La Moneda, the presidential palace, where he was surrounded by a group of supporters. Military officials claimed Allende committed suicide, an explanation rejected by Allende loyalists.

The journalist who investigated the case and compiled the tapes, Patricia Verduo, insists they are authentic. She wants Chilean courts and police to take a closer look at the evidence and definitively prove that the voice belongs to Pinochet.

The tape has been around, and on sale, for several years. But Chileans are paying renewed attention to it in the wake of an attempt by leftist politicians to bring Pinochet to trial on charges of genocide.

Under the Chilean constitution drafted while Pinochet was in power, he has the right to become a senator for life after retiring as head of the army. With his retirement looming in March, leftist anti-Pinochet politicians have launched a vigorous campaign to try to keep him out of the senate.

That prompted Communist Party leader Gladys Marin, whose husband was among those who disappeared during the Pinochet years, to bring a complaint against Pinochet, asking a court to order an investigation in his role in the death squads and allegedly illegal appropriations of property.

In January, Judge Juan Guzman ordered a criminal probe, which could eventually force Pinochet, now 82, to testify and strip him of immunity from prosecution that he enjoys as army chief.

Until now, Pinochet had never been investigated for human rights violations during his rule. The democratic governments that followed his dictatorship have been fearful of alienating the army and a substantial minority of Chileans who see Pinochet as the hero who rescued their country from Allende's leftist chaos.

Reporter Amaro Gomez-Pablos and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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