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Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 07:34 GMT

World: Americas

Albright: 'We made terrible mistakes'

Mrs Albright: Regrets support for past military leaders

The United States committed ''terrible mistakes'' in Latin America during the Cold War, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said.

She suggested that backing Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet was one of Washington's errors.

[ image: Generl Pinochet is waiting to hear his fate]
Generl Pinochet is waiting to hear his fate
"When you speak of that era, I think many of us, as we look back on it, feel that there were many serious mistakes made," she told students in Atlanta on Thursday.

Her remarks came after America's largest human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch, slammed the government for failing to take a firm stand on General Pinochet's possible trial in Spain on charges of genocide and torture.

The organisation says the Pinochet regime was responsible for the murder or disappearance of more than 3,000 people during his reign from 1973 to 1990.

Mrs Albright said: "We are reviewing and releasing documents related to the Pinochet era. It is part of trying to deal with the terrible mistakes and problems of that time."

Thousands of US documents on the Pinochet years have already been made public. The Spanish authorities have requested more US files that could support their case.

Human Rights Watch had said a review of records was no substitute for a policy in support of justice.

The organisation's annual report says most dictators commit atrocities because they think they can get away with it, and refusing to bring them to justice simply reinforces that view.

General Pinochet faces extradition to Spain after the British House of Lords ruled he was not immune from prosecution. But the Chilean Government wants him returned home, saying it is up to Chileans to deal with their past.

The US said this week that Chile's request demanded significant respect. Commentators said America's position may be motivated by a desire not to have details of its backing for General Pinochet's 1973 coup dragged up again.

The general is now waiting for UK Home Secretary Jack Straw to decide whether to send him to Spain or put him on a plane home.

US links with dictators

Mrs Albright was replying to a question about the US army's School of the Americas, which has been accused of training Latin American officers who later violated human rights.

Mrs Albright said that Washington could now instil democratic principles in the region's armed forces even if it failed to do so in the past.

The US often backed Latin American right-wing dictatorships in the Cold War years.

It supported the violent 1973 coup in which General Pinochet took power in Chile, but later fell out with his government.

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