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Friday, February 19, 1999 Published at 14:26 GMT


Pinochet letter 'not from Pope'

The Pope's personal views on Pinochet are not known

The UK Government says the Pope was not personally involved in written representations which the Vatican made on the subject of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

The pinochet File
The announcement was made as the general's supporters welcomed what they see as papal intervention to prevent the general's extradition from the United Kingdom to Spain.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the Vatican intervention came last November, and was therefore not a last-minute attempt to free the general before the Law Lords - the UK's highest court - decide on his fate.

It came from "a senior Vatican official", not the Pope himself, the spokesman said.

No details

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg: General Pinochet seems to have influential friends
The Vatican intervention only came to light this week. Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons replied affirmatively when former Conservative Chancellor Lord Lamont asked whether the Vatican had made any represenations to the UK Government in the Pinochet case.

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 contents of the representations are not known, but the general's supporters are confident that the Vatican was trying to urge Britain to allow him to return to Chile.

Pope's views unknown

Lord Lamont: "Pope understands life under communism"
Supporters argue that the Pope would be sympathetic towards the general, pointing to the two men's shared opposition to communism, and the Pope's successful visit to Chile in 1987 while General Pinochet was still head of state.

Opponents argue that the Catholic church in Chile was one of General Pinochet's most powerful critics during his time in power.

The Chilean Government has declined to comment on the Vatican's representations.

Government officials have recently met Vatican representatives to discuss General Pinochet's situation, but Santiago denies asking the Pope to intervene.

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

The Law 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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