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Thursday, December 10, 1998 Published at 06:45 GMT


Chile recalls ambassador after UK's Pinochet ruling

The Chilean ambassador, Mario Artaza, was withdrawn in protest

Joshua Rozenberg: "The legal process could be long and tortured"
Chile has reacted angrily to the decision of the UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to allow the extradition case of the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet to proceed, by recalling its ambassador to London.

Ambassador Mario Artaza has been "recalled immediately for consultation" by his country's president.

The pinochet File
The move follows Mr Straw's ruling that General Pinochet must remain in Britain to face extradition proceedings which could see him removed to Spain to face charges involving a litany of alleged human rights crimes during his 1973-90 rule.

Mr Straw ruled that a Spanish judge's bid to extradite the 83-year-old former Chilean military leader should go before the courts.

Jack Straw: "I have decided to issue an authority to proceed"
The general could now be sent to Spain for trial on charges of mass murder, but his first court appearance will take place on Friday, when he will go before Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south-east London.

The Chilean Ambassador described the home secretary's decision as "quasi-judicial" and accused the UK Government of including political factors in the moves.

The Chilean army has also condemned Mr Straw's ruling, calling it "abusive and humiliating". It said the extradition proceedings against its former commander-in-chief are an "attack on Chile's national sovereignty".

'A failure of political leadership'

In the UK, the ruling has been denounced by Conservatives as damaging to the country.

Former Tory Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who has maintained that the UK is indebted to Gen Pinochet for his support during the Falklands conflict, described Mr Straw's decision as a "a grave mistake".

Lady Thatcher said: "He (Mr Straw) had ample power to put an end to this shameful and damaging episode. He has chosen instead to prolong it.

[ image: General Pinochet...heading for trial in Spain]
General Pinochet...heading for trial in Spain
"Neither he nor the Government can hide behind legal posturing. This was a political decision and it represents a failure of political leadership."

But Labour MPs joined human rights campaigners in applauding the ruling.

Amnesty International, which has been campaigning for Gen Pinochet to face a trial, hailed the decision as the start of a "new era for human rights" and said Mr Straw should be congratulated for "not bowing to political pressure".

And Luis Machivello, of the Families of the Disappeared, said: "It is such a good day for human rights.

"A lot of atrocities were committed and now he needs to pay."

Lawyers for Gen Pinochet, who is staying in a rented mansion in Wentworth, Surrey, are expected to lodge a request for a judicial review by the High Court.

But his solicitors, Kingsley Napley, have refused to confirm they will apply on Thursday for leave to seek a High Court judicial review.

Not immune from prosecution

In a 30-paragraph statement, Mr Straw rejected all the grounds put forward by supporters of the former dictator, who wanted him to be sent back to Chile immediately.

[ image:  ]
Mr Straw said General Pinochet did not enjoy immunity from prosecution and was fit to face extradition proceedings. He also rejected claims that the involvement of one of the Law Lords with Amnesty International could have influenced the earlier ruling.

He said the length of time which had elapsed since the alleged crimes was also irrelevant.

Mr Straw's announcement follows a ruling in the UK's highest court, the House of Lords, that General Pinochet did not have immunity from prosecution.

In the Chilean capital, Santiago, British Embassy staff are battening down the hatches in preparation for angry demonstrations.

Chile's vice-president said his country's government "believes this decision violates the jurisdiction of sovereignty of Chile".

He added that the government shared the "concern and shock" of its citizens. But he urged that these concerns "should not take the form of public agitation".

Damage limitation

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has attempted to limit the diplomatic damage done by Mr Straw's decision, by writing to his Chilean counterpart Jose Miguel Insulza saying he wanted "to do everything possible to maintain the high quality of our bilateral relationship".

Mr Cook said he "valued the skilful and statesmanlike way in which [Mr Insulza] has forcefully presented his government's case" over General Pinochet.

And he repeated his insistence that General Pinochet's arrest and the subsequent legal proceedings "have been and remain an entirely legal matter".

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House of Lords - Judicial Work and Judgements

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The full text of the Law Lords' ruling

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