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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed Mar 15 06:08:44 2000
Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 21:40:40 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: RIGHTS-CHILE: Army Defiant on Eve of Inauguration of New Gov't
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Article: 91113
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Army Defiant on Eve of Inauguration of New Gov't

By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS
10 March 2000

SANTIAGO, Mar 10 (IPS) - The Chilean army reiterated Friday, on the eve of the inauguration of president-elect Ricardo Lagos, its support for former dictator Augusto Pinochet, who faces the possibility of being tried for human rights violations.

At a ceremony in Antofagasta, 1,200 kms north of Santiago, marking his second year as commander-in-chief of the army, General Ricardo Izurieta delivered a speech described by political analysts as "defiant."

Izurieta's speech came a week after the armed forces irritated the government of President Eduardo Frei by throwing a hero's welcome when Pinochet returned to Chile after more than a year and a half under house arrest in London.

The reception ceremony for the elderly former dictator was indirectly referred to by Frei Wednesday as a "provocation."

Frei, a Christian Democrat, will hand over power to Lagos, a moderate socialist, Saturday in the third peaceful passing of the mantle since March 1990, the end of Pinochet's iron-fisted rule that began with a bloody Sep 11, 1973 coup that overthrew socialist president Salvador Allende.

One of the biggest challenges to be left to the centre-left Coalition for Democracy in its third (second consecutive) term of government are the demands that Pinochet - a life senator since March 1998 - be tried.

The 84-year-old retired army chief currently faces 72 lawsuits on charges of human rights violations, being investigated by Judge Juan Guzm n.

On Monday, Guzm n filed a request with the Santiago appeals court that Pinochet be stripped of the immunity he enjoys as senator-for-life. That would enable him to be tried in connection with the "caravan of death" - a special military mission that killed off and disappeared at least 70 political prisoners around the country shortly after the coup.

The appeals court will possibly hand down a decision on the lifting of Pinochet's immunity within a month, but the ruling can be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pinochet will be defended by lawyers paid by the army.

The State Defence Council (Chile's public prosecutors office) decided Tuesday to take part in the cases against Pinochet. The president of the State Defence Council, Clara Szczaranski, said Wednesday that her office would argue before the appeals court in favour of stripping Pinochet of parliamentary immunity.

And on Friday, Spanish Judge Baltasar GarzĒn, who issued the arrest warrant on the basis of which Pinochet was arrested in London in the first place, offered to collaborate with Guzm n in the attempt to bring the former dictator to trial for crimes against humanity.

GarzĒn offered his assistance in the framework of the 1948 international convention against genocide, the 1984 international convention against torture, and treaties on extradition and legal assistance signed by Spain and Chile.

In a message to Guzm n, the Spanish judge said he would continue working on the cases he has been investigating since 1996 on genocide, terrorism and torture against former dictators in Argentina and Chile. He added that the international arrest warrant for Pinochet would remain in effect.

GarzĒn also sent a letter to the British Crown Prosecution Service, which represented Spain in the trial for the extradition of Pinochet.

The judge expressed gratitude for the British prosecutors' efforts and professionalism, which he said had "clearly contributed to consolidating the principle of universal justice in persecuting extremely grave crimes against humanity."

Izurieta said Friday, meanwhile, that the Chilean army would continue supporting the retired general, who suffered "an unjust and lengthy" arrest in Britain. The general added that the army would fight for "history to be written in accordance with the true facts."

Izurieta became army chief on Mar 10, 1998, succeeding Pinochet, who had held the post for nearly 25 years since being designated by president Allende on Aug 23, 1973 - three weeks before Pinochet seized power.

Defence Minister Edmundo P‚rez said Thursday that he had not yet received an explanation from Izurieta regarding the reception ceremony held for Pinochet.

The former dictator returned home last week after British Home Secretary Jack Straw released him on humanitarian grounds, thus cutting short the legal battle for extraditing him to Spain to stand trial for crimes against humanity in connection with the more than 3,000 people disappeared and/or killed during the de facto regime.

Straw based his decision on a medical report by a team of British physicians that declared the former dictator mentally and physically unfit to stand trial.

But the crediblity of the report was severely questioned when on his arrival to Chile, Pinochet stood up from his wheelchair and walked, smiling and hugging family, friends and supporters - and looking anything like the frail old man depicted by the British doctors' report.

The Chilean government and human rights groups criticised the "pomp" with which the armed forces and the right welcomed the former dictator, pointing out that he was not returning home as a man who had been found innocent.

The row triggered by Pinochet's welcome ceremony led to the collapse of an agreement arduously negotiated in civilian-military talks on human rights that began last August on the initiative of Defence Minister P‚rez.

On Wednesday, P‚rez handed Frei a bulky report on the negotiating table's work, and the president called for the talks to continue "above and beyond any provocations" - an allusion to Pinochet's welcome ceremony.

Izurieta also urged that compulsory military service be maintained - although in a perfected format. Sectors of civil society and centre and leftist political groupings have been calling for the elimination of conscription.


Origin: Montevideo/RIGHTS-CHILE/

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