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Friday, February 19, 1999 Published at 04:50 GMT


Pope enters Pinochet row

The Pope had visited Chile during Pinochet's rule

The Pope has intervened in the extradition dispute surrounding the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet.

The pinochet File
The Junior Foreign Office minister, Baroness Symons, said in a House of Lords written reply that the Vatican had made representations to Britain about the arrest of the 83-year-old senator.

General Pinochet was arrested in London last year after Spain requested he be extradited to stand trial for alleged human rights crimes.

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg: General Pinochet seems to have influential friends
The Foreign Office refused to say what was the nature of the Pope's communication. "I can't go into the matter at all," said a spokesperson.

The Daily Telegraph claims the Vatican has urged Britain to block General Pinochet's extradition to Spain.

The paper says "the Pope has appealed for leniency for humanitarian reasons and in the interests of national reconciliation in Chile.

"But he has also backed the argument that the general should be immune from prosecution as a former head of state."

General 'protected freedom'

The former Conservative Chancellor, Lord Lamont, who posed the question about the general in the Lords, said he suspected Pope John Paul II was pressing for Pinochet to be freed.

[ image: Pinochet: Fighting extradition]
Pinochet: Fighting extradition
"I suspect that the representations have been made at the highest level, recognising the general's great contribution to protecting freedom in the Cold War," he said.

The Pope visited Chile during the rule of General Pinochet, who is a fervent Catholic.

Lord Lamont: "Pope understands life under communism"
"The Pope would understand the reason for saving a country from a Marxist dictatorship," said Lord Lamont, who is in favour of allowing the senator to return to Chile.

He added: "I think Baroness Symons's reply is cowardly in not giving any details. I am tabling questions tonight to confirm at which level the representations were made and what they were. I think it's very significant. I think the Government will be embarrassed."

Joshua Rozenburg reports on Lord Lamont's question
There has been no comment from Vatican representatives in either the UK or Italy.

It is understood the Vatican's message was in written form, and would have met with the standard Foreign Office response, which is: "We note your views but this is a legal question which can and must be resolved in the courts."

The Lords have yet to decide on whether to grant a Crown appeal against a High Court ruling that General Pinochet, as a former head of state, enjoys immunity from prosecution.

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