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Chile Mass Grave Investigated

May 6, 1998

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Authorities began investigating on Tuesday a report that scores of victims of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s former military government may be buried in a desert in northern Chile.

Judge Juan Guzman, who flew to the site to direct the investigation, confirmed Tuesday that the remains of one man had already been found.

The probe began after a congressman told reporters an unidentified officer who witnessed alleged executions described the grave in the Atacama desert, about 1,120 miles north of the capital, Santiago.

Congressman Felipe Valenzuela said the officer claimed that up to 150 people may be buried at the site near Pisagua, where hundreds of political prisoners were held after Pinochet’s 1973 coup. Eight years ago, a mass grave was disclosed in the area with the remains of 20 leftists executed by the military.

Sola Sierra, who leads an organization of relatives of 1,102 people arrested by Pinochet’s security agents and still unaccounted for, said several members of her group were flying to the site to follow the investigation.

The investigation has prompted legislators in Congress to urge Pinochet, now a senator for life, to begin work on a pardon for those responsible for deaths during the leader’s 1973-90 dictatorship.

When reporters asked the 82-year-old former dictator about the legislators’ comments, a clearly angry Pinochet, now senator-for-life, replied: ``Let those gentlemen ask for pardon first.″

He did not elaborate, but in the past he has said the military has no reason to ask for pardons for its role during the regime. Leftist politicians were responsible for leading the country into the deep crisis that prompted the coup, he has argued.

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