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The BBC's James Robbins
"This sudden decision has stunned Chile"
 real 56k

Carlos Reyes, of campaigning group Chile Democratico
"I am deeply touched by this news and delighted"
 real 28k

Hermogenes Perez Dearce, Pinochet supporter
"He has everything to fear"
 real 28k

Friday, 1 December, 2000, 19:11 GMT
Pinochet charged with kidnapping
General Pinochet
Pinochet: Accused of ordering a series of kidnappings
A judge in Chile has formally charged General Augusto Pinochet with kidnapping during his 1973-1990 dictatorship.

Radio and television stations interrupted their programmes to break the news, which has taken the country by surprise.

The general is accused of masterminding the so-called "Caravan of Death" in which more than 70 political prisoners disappeared shortly after he came to power in a military coup.

BBC Santiago correspondent James Reynolds says the move by Judge Juan Guzman paves the way for a trial. Reports say the general has been notified of the charges and placed under house arrest.


A historic development in terms of the fight against impunity for atrocities in Chile

Human rights watch
The former military ruler was recently stripped of his congressional immunity from prosecution.

But he may still escape trial if medical tests ordered a month ago find that he is insane or suffering from dementia.

According to an official report, more than 3,000 people died or are missing, presumed dead, following the coup.

The caravan of death refers to a group of military officers who toured Chile by helicopter shortly after the coup, ordering the execution of political prisoners.

Mental fitness

General Pinochet faces 177 criminal complaints stemming from alleged human rights violations during his rule.

Pinochet supporter
Pinochet supporters gathered for his birthday last week
Last week, he made a hesitant admission of responsibility for atrocities committed by the military while he was in power.

"As a former president of the republic, I accept all the facts that they say the army and the armed forces did," he said in a taped message on his 85th birthday.

But he went on to call some of the accusations against his government propaganda.

The former ruler was released from a Santiago hospital earlier this month after being treated for pneumonia.

He returned to Chile in March this year after being detained in London for 15 months awaiting a UK decision on whether he should be extradited to Spain to be tried on charges of torture.

He was allowed to return home after the British Government ruled he was too old and sick to undergo trial.

Reaction

Opponents of the general were quick to hail Judge Guzman's ruling as a milestone for Chilean justice.

"This is a historic development in terms of the fight against impunity for atrocities in Chile," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch America's director.

"It helps in many ways to re-establish the credibility of the Chilean judiciary."

The human rights lawyer who spearheaded efforts to prosecute General Pinochet in Spain also welcomed the decision, but sounded a note of caution.

"This step is positive in itself but certainly the test of fire is the coming medical exams," said Joan Garces.

General Pinochet's supporters, meanwhile, have deplored the latest move in the protracted legal battle over his fate.

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See also:

02 Nov 00 | Americas
Court orders more tests for Pinochet
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Analysis: The Pinochet factor
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