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Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 09:27 GMT

World: Americas

Lords verdict sparks debate in Chile

The military is thought unlikely to intervene

By Santiago Correspondent James Reynolds

The verdict in the UK House of Lords that General Pinochet does not have immunity from prosecution has led to a wave of political action and debate in Chile.

Supporters of General Pinochet have demanded action to bring about the former military leader's prompt return.

The pinochet File
Opposition politicians have called, so far unsuccessfully, for the heads of the Senate and the head of the Supreme Court to visit Europe to lobby for General Pinochet's release.

The Senate held three days of talks to discuss sending its own delegation to Europe.

But senators failed to agree on the message they would take to London and to Madrid, and the trip was cancelled.

Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza's visit to Europe has been followed with great interest in Chile. Many have seen it as the Chilean government's only hope of securing General Pinochet's return.

Scepticism over Chile trial

Before leaving Santiago, Mr Insulza told reporters that he would repeat his government's position that General Pinochet cannot be tried abroad for crimes committed in Chile.

Once in London he went one step further, and told the BBC that the former military leader may be tried in his own country.

This assertion has been greeted with scepticism in Chile. Opponents of General Pincohet say that the amnesty law passed by the former military leader together with his parliamentary immunity make it impossible for him to be tried in his own country.

"I think it's very unlikely that Pinochet will ever be criminally prosecuted in Chile." says Jose Miguel Vivanco from the Organisation Human Rights Watch, "The political problems and legal obstacles the judiciary will have to overcome make very, very unlikely this event."

Generals concerned

Much attention in Chile has focused on the reaction of the armed forces.

Following the House of Lords' verdict the army released a statement expressing its "deep concern" over the situation facing its former commander in chief.

The Head of the Army, General Ricardo Izurieta, has held a series of well-publicised meetings with senior officials to discuss how the armed forces should react.

Up till now military commanders have limited their reaction to expressing their unease about what has happened. But most in Chile rule out any sort of military intervention.

"I don't see any risk to Chilean democracy if General Pinochet is extradited." says defence analyst Raul Sohr. "I mean the army and the armed forces have absolutely nothing to gain by destabilising the government.

"Quite to the contrary - if they were to do that any slim chance of negotiating a release of Pinochet would be lost completely."

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