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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 17:48 GMT
Chile court hears Pinochet appeal
Appeals court judges in Chilean capital, Santiago
Judges could end case on health grounds
A Chilean court has begun hearing an appeal aiming at overturning the house arrest and trial of the country's former military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet.

The general has been charged in connection with the Caravan of Death, a military squad allegedly responsible for the deaths and disappearances of more than 70 political prisoners in 1973.

Possible outcomes
The court decides to close the case, eliminating the charges against Pinochet
The judges rule the process is valid, but end it on health grounds
The judges decide against Pinochet, in which case he can ask an appeals court, but not the Supreme Court, to revise the ruling in March
The defence is expected to insist that the former head of state is not guilty and is too ill to stand trial, while the seven prosecution lawyers will request that General Pinochet be tried for a wider range of offences.

The appeals court's hearings in the capital, Santiago, are expected to last through Wednesday.

The latest stage in the Pinochet legal saga comes amid new revelations which observers say could make things difficult for the defence.

'Compromising' reply

Last week, a Chilean online newspaper published documents which suggested that the former ruler was aware of human rights abuses being committed against dissidents - these papers will be presented during the hearings.

General Pinochet in December
General Pinochet's lawyers say he is too ill to stand trial
In one of the documents, the army prosecutor asks General Pinochet to investigate the death of left-wing activist Eugenio Ruiz Tagle.

A handwritten reply, bearing what appears to be General Pinochet's signature, instructs the prosecutor to conclude that no torture took place.

The note adds that Mr Ruiz Tagle was executed because of the serious charges against him.

Analysts have suggested the document could compromise General Pinochet because it proves he did not order an investigation into the matter.

Of the three appeal judges hearing the case, two voted in favour of stripping General Pinochet of his immunity last year, opening the way for a possible trial.

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See also:

08 Feb 01 | Americas
Document 'destroys' Pinochet defence
01 Feb 01 | Americas
Pinochet under house arrest
30 Jan 01 | Americas
Pinochet to fight arrest order
23 Jan 01 | Americas
Judge questions Pinochet
13 Jan 01 | Americas
Doctors conclude Pinochet medical
10 Jan 01 | Americas
Finding Chile's disappeared
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