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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 15:26 GMT
Finding Chile's disappeared
relatives of the 'disappeared'
More than 1,000 people were listed as "disappeared"
By James Reynolds in Santiago

The fate of Chile's disappeared is, in the words of President Ricardo Lagos, "a thorn in our country's soul".

Now the country has taken a step towards discovering the fate of those who went missing and whose bodies have yet to be found.

I've spent my whole life looking for my father... now I know I'll never find him.

Viviana Diaz
When Chile returned to democracy in 1990, then President Patricio Aylwin set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It reported that more than 3,000 people had been killed during 17 years of military government under General Augusto Pinochet. Of this number, more than 1,000 were listed as "disappeared".

For a number of years, the country did little to try to find the bodies of the disappeared.

General Pinochet remained in charge of the Chilean army until 1998, and blocked any efforts to investigate the past. But his arrest in London in October 1998 changed everything.

The country made a renewed effort to face up to its past. In August 1999, a commission was set up by the minister of defence.

For the first time, human rights lawyers and members of the armed forces sat down at the same table. The aim was simple: to work out the fate of the disappeared and to reveal where their bodies were buried.

General Augusto Pinochet
Until 1998 Pinochet remained in charge of the army and blocked investigations into the disappeared
In June last year, the commission reached agreement. The armed forces had six months to hand over any information they had on the fate of the disappeared. On Sunday 7 January this information was made public by the president.

In a 15 minute nationwide address, President Lagos described the information he had received as "raw and painful." He said the armed forces had come up with information on the fate of about 180 of Chile's disappeared. The bodies of 150 of these people, he said, had been thrown into the sea or into rivers and lakes.


The information disappointed many. The country had been led to believe that much more information had been gathered, but the fact is that the fates of hundreds of Chile's disappeared are still unresolved.

relatives of the 'disappeared'
Many relatives were disappointed by the report
Nevertheless, the presentation of the report has led to some extraordinary moments here. The head of the organisation representing relatives of those who disappeared, Viviana Diaz, found out about the fate of her father, who disappeared in May 1976.

The report reveals that Victor Diaz, a Communist Party official, was killed at the end of 1976. His body was then thrown into the Pacific Ocean.

Speaking to other members of her organisation, Ms Diaz said: "I've spent my whole life looking for my father. Now I know I'll never find him."

Ms Diaz, who is usually composed in public, wiped tears from her face as she spoke. Dozens of those who watched her speak wept, sobbed and embraced.

'An insult'

Elsewhere, human rights lawyers have called the report "an insult". They accuse the armed forces of falsifying and withholding information.

In particular, they say nothing has been done to obtain information from General Pinochet's former intelligence service, which is thought to be responsible for the majority of disappearances.

Chile's Supreme Court has now appointed two justices to investigate the information provided by the armed forces. Those found responsible for the deaths may eventually face trial.

The presentation of the report comes as the judicial investigation into General Pinochet is reaching a key stage, and the former dictator is facing a difficult battle to avoid being put on trial.

Campaigners say the shocking details of the report make them more determined than ever to see the former military leader face trial. For them, Chile has cast aside the shadow of the Pinochet years and is now trying to remove the thorn from its soul.

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10 Jan 01 | Americas
Pinochet in hospital for tests
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