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Lawyer For Burn Victim Says He’ll Appeal Transfer To Military Court

July 24, 1986

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ A civilian judge indicted an army officer in the death of a U.S. resident who was fatally burned during a protest against military rule, but released seven other soldiers in custody and transferred the case to a military court.

A lawyer representing the victim’s family said he would appeal the Wednesday ruling.

Rodrigo Rojas de Negri, a 19-year-old Chilean who was raised in the Washington, D.C. area, died July 6, four days after participating in an anti- government demonstration along with his companion, Carmen Gloria Quintana, 18.

Witnesses said soldiers doused the two with gasoline and set them on fire. The army said the demonstrators carried the gasoline and Ms. Quintana started the fire accidentally.

Ms. Quintana was seriously injured, but survived.

Judge Alberto Echavarria said he considered himself ″legally incompetent″ to try the officer, Lt. Pedro Fernandez. In Chile, military personnel cannot be tried in civilian courts.

He also set free two officer and five non-commissioned officers, leaving only Fernandez in custody. On July 18, the army had arrested 25 soldiers in connection with the case. On Friday, the judge ordered the release of 17 draftees. None of the detainees was charged.

Hector Salazar, a lawyer for the Rojas and Quintana familes, said the judge based his decision only on statements made by the officers and virtually accepted the army version of the events leading to Rojas’ death.

The judge ″had the obligation of considering the statements given to him by over a dozen witnesses and especially those given to him by the victims themselves,″ said the lawyer in announcing his appeal.

Rojas’ mother, Veronica de Negri, said in a statement in Washington that Fernandez’ indictment represented ″a step toward clarifying the truth, namely that the Chilean army burned my son alive.″

″But at the same time the case took a giant step backwards with the judge’s decision to declare himself incompetent and to turn the matter over to the military tribunals. I have no faith in military justice in ... Chile,″ said Ms. de Negri, a political exile.

She called for an independent investigation to ″uncover all the guilty, all the accomplices, no matter how high in the ranks of the military regime they may be found.″

Chile has been ruled by the military since 1973 when Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the elected government of Marxist Salvador Allende.

Rojas, a free-lance photographer, returned to Chile in May from Washington where he had lived for 11 years with his mother.

The army said soldiers stopped Rojas, Ms. Quintana and others during the demonstration and she dropped a bowl of gasoline, starting the fire. The demonstrators had brought the gasoline to start a fire to block traffic, the army said.

The army and the government had said earlier that the fire might have been caused by firebombs the two victims allegedly were carrying.

But Salazar said neither Rojas nor Ms. Quintana carried any flammable liquids.

At least 12 witnesses said soldiers doused the youths with gasoline and set them on fire. After a short while, the witnesses said, the soldiers extinguished the fires with blankets, loaded their bodies onto a military truck and sped away.

Rojas and Ms. Quintana were later found 10 miles from the working-class district where the incident occurred.

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