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Colonel: Chile Dissidents Slain

August 3, 2000

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ A retired air force colonel has charged that more than 500 political dissidents missing since the early 1970s were slain by Chilean security forces, their bodies weighted down and tossed into the sea.

The account by the colonel _ who was not identified under a new government policy _ purports to shed light on the fate of some of the 1,000 dissidents who vanished under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The comments were contained in a letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, and they come as Chile’s Supreme Court decides whether to try Pinochet for alleged human rights abuses.

Reaction in Chile to the colonel’s statement, parts of which were reported in the national media Thursday, was subdued. Similar stories about the demise of the dissidents have circulated over the years.

But the allegations, delivered in a letter Wednesday to President Ricardo Lagos, mark the first concrete result of a month-old policy that provides anonymity to those who come forward with information about the missing.

The letter was written by Methodist Pastor Enrique Vilches, who said in the note that he was quoting discussions between himself and the unnamed colonel.

The Supreme Court this week was deciding whether Pinochet’s elite status as a lifetime member of Congress gives him immunity from facing charges that he oversaw the execution of 19 political prisoners after staging a bloody coup in 1973.

Later Thursday, the government issued a statement confirming the letter’s authenticity but criticizing its release to the media.

``The information he made availabe, contained in just four pages, does not include background ... to reach some conclusion on the actual whereabouts of the victims,″ it said.

In Vilches’ letter, the colonel said Pinochet’s security services rented merchant ships to take the bodies to high seas.

``In order to ensure the bodies would sink as deep as possible, lead bars were fixed to them,″ he said, quoting the colonel.

The letter also said that the bodies were injected with chemicals to hasten decomposition.

The letter did not provide any information on how or when the dissidents were killed.

The pastor, a well-known religious figure in Chile who hosts a radio program, says in the letter that the colonel said he had decided to speak because he felt badly about ``what he knew about the missing detainees.″ Vilches was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Several members of the court said Tuesday that they had failed to reach an agreement and would make a decision next week. But legal sources, media reports and even Pinochet’s family have said the vote went against the former dictator.

Marco Antonio Pinochet said his father would fight the charges and would never submit to medical tests to avoid trial.

``What my father will do now is to defend himself in court,″ the younger Pinochet told the Megavision television network on Wednesday.

Pinochet’s legal team had anticipated the 84-year-old retired general would not submit to medical tests, especially mental health tests. Under Chilean law, defendants can be exempted from trial only for reasons of madness or dementia.

Lawyer Pablo Rodriguez explained that while Pinochet has ``serious organic health problems,″ he is not crazy or demented and being exempted from trial for medical reasons ``would tarnish his image before history.″

Marco Antonio Pinochet said that ending his father’s legal troubles on medical grounds ``would mean that he would be considered guilty and, in addition, crazy.″

Pinochet suffers from diabetes, has a pacemaker and suffered three mild strokes during his 16-month house arrest in London. He was allowed to return to Chile in March after Britain determined he was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

Pinochet faces 154 criminal complaints stemming from human rights abuses during his reign, and the lifting of congressional legal immunity would remove the last hurdle for him to be tried.

Viviana Diaz, president of an organization of relatives of the missing, said the letter from Vilches would be added to the case against Pinochet. The government said it was delivering the document to the court.

``We will never cease to learn more and more of the brutality they used against our loved ones,″ she said.

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