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British Block Sought for Pinochet

April 6, 1999

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ The Chilean government plans to ask Britain’s home secretary to block the extradition of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet to Spain, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry confirmed that it would file the request with the British official, Jack Straw. A ministry cited ``juridical and political″ considerations but refused to discuss details.

Although he didn’t mention the request specifically, Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza outlined what could be Chile’s legal argument to block the handover of Pinochet to Spain, where he faces 33 charges of torture.

Insulza told the Santiago daily El Mercurio that the International Convention against Torture, mentioned in the case against Pinochet, states that torture crimes should be tried in the country where they were committed _ or where the accused is.

That would give Chile and Britain precedence over Spain to try Pinochet.

Pinochet was arrested Oct. 16 in London on a warrant by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who wants to try him for human rights abuses committed during his 1973-90 regime.

An official Chilean report says 3,197 people were killed or had disappeared at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police after he toppled elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in a bloody coup.

The House of Lords ruled last month that he could only be tried for torture cases occurring after 1988, when the Convention was signed by Chile, Britain and Spain. That left only one torture case standing: that of Marcos Quzada, a 17-year-old student who allegedly died under police torture.

But Spain’s judge Garzon quickly filed 32 new accusations of torture reputedly committed after 1988.

The London High Court has given Straw until April 15 to issue a new ruling on whether to allow Spain to seek Pinochet’s extradition.

Insulza said a return of Pinochet to Chile for trial would not weaken, but strengthen Chile’s young democracy. ``We would be able to prove that we are able to solve our problems by ourselves,″ he said.

Some 18 lawsuits against Pinochet have been filed by relatives of victims or social and labor groups. But prospects of Pinochet trial at home are considered difficult.

Among the hurdles are a 1978 amnesty law issued by Pinochet, continued strong support of the former dictator by Chile’s armed forces, and his limited immunity as a senator-for-life.

Retired Gen. Jorge Villarino, one of Pinochet’s closest associates, said that bringing Pinochet to trial would be seen by the armed forces as putting the entire military establishment on trial.

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