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Friday, January 8, 1999 Published at 09:50 GMT

World: Americas

Pinochet could face US trial

Pinochet and Allende: US investigates whether the general ordered the death of an Allende ally

The United States is examining allegations that the former military leader of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet, was behind a car bomb attack in Washington in 1976.

Clive Myrie: Pinochet may have ordered assasinations
The bomb killed a former Chilean Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier, who was a prominent critic of the general.

The US Attorney-General, Janet Reno, has confirmed that the Justice Department is reviewing whether General Pinochet could be tried in the US in connection with the attack, which also killed an American, Ronni Moffitt.

The pinochet File
Information on the bombing was originally requested by a Spanish judge, as part of his case to have General Pinochet extradited from Britain to face trial on charges of genocide and torture.

Although Chilean intelligence officer Jose Dionizio Suarez was convicted of Mr Letelier's murder, the file was never closed.

Orlando Letelier served in the government of Salvador Allende whom Pinochet forced out of office in Chile in a coup in 1973.

Pinochet 'sole authority'

[ image: Jose Dionizio Suarez: Convicted of Letelier's murder]
Jose Dionizio Suarez: Convicted of Letelier's murder
Declassified documents from Chile in the 1970s identify Pinochet as the sole authority over his country's security apparatus during his rule.

The FBI in 1976 also identified an effort by Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, codenamed Operation Condor, to silence leftist opposition abroad. The US Justice Department is now looking into the possibility that the murder of Orlando Letelier was part of Operation Condor.

The US has previously tried to discourage Spain's moves to put the general on trial.

[ image: Madeleine Albright: Discouraged foreign trial]
Madeleine Albright: Discouraged foreign trial
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in December that General Pinochet's fate should be left in the hands of the Chilean people.

Washington's failure to take a stand against the general drew criticism from Human Rights Watch, the leading US human rights lobby group.

Some observers believe that a foreign trial for the general could embarrass the US by bringing to light fresh evidence of American complicity with the Pinochet regime - who is known to have received support from the CIA in his 1973 coup.

'Terrible mistakes'

But more recently Mrs Albright has admitted that the US made "terrible mistakes" in supporting certain right-wing regimes in Latin America in the 1970s.

General Pinochet was arrested in London in October last year, when his extradition was requested by Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon.

The general is wanted in Spain to face charges of torture and genocide during his 1973-1990 dictatorship.

More than 3,000 people were murdered or disappeared under the Pinochet regime.

The British Law Lords are scheduled to meet on 18 January to reconsider whether the general, who holds the office of life senator in Chile, has immunity from any extradition request.

An earlier ruling was set aside because one of the judges, Lord Hoffmann, failed to disclose his links with Amnesty International, one of the groups campaigning for the general's extradition.

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