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Court To Issue Pinochet Decision

February 14, 2000

LONDON (AP) _ The High Court said it will rule Tuesday on whether Belgium and six human rights groups may view a medical report finding former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet mentally unfit to stand trial.

Belgium and the groups have twice appealed to see the report, which British Home Secretary Jack Straw has said leaves him inclined to send the 84-year-old general home rather than ordering him extradited to Spain to stand trial on charges of human rights abuses.

Straw has cited patient confidentiality in refusing to release the report, conducted last month by an independent medical team.

A three-judge High Court panel heard the latest arguments last week, after a single judge first rejected the request from Belgium and the human rights groups.

Pinochet attorney Clive Nicholls argued that Pinochet’s right to confidentiality outweighs public interest. But Belgium says it is entitled to see the findings because it has requested the his extradition on behalf of citizens who say their relatives were jailed or killed in Chile.

Spain, France and Switzerland have made similar requests, but only Belgium is involved in this legal challenge.

Pinochet, who has diabetes and suffered two small strokes last fall, was arrested in October 1998 on a Spanish warrant while recuperating from back surgery in London. He remains under police guard at a rented mansion west of the city.

If the three-judge panel rejects the request, Belgium and the human rights groups can ask for leave to appeal to Britain’s highest court, the House of Lords. That would be granted only if they could demonstrate the case had given rise to an issue of general public importance.

If the panel agrees Belgium and the groups should see the report, Straw will have to allow them time to view the contents and comment on them. He then would be free to issue his decision on whether Pinochet should be extradited.

Spain has reiterated that it would not contest any decision to release Pinochet, but the other countries and the human rights groups could appeal Straw’s ruling.

An official Chilean government report says 3,197 people died or disappeared during the general’s 17-year dictatorship, which began when he seized power in a 1973 military coup.

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