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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
Pinochet's police chief jailed
By Clinton Porteous
BBC correspondent in Santiago

Manuel Contreras
Contreras was a confidant of Augusto Pinochet after the coup
The ex-head of Chile's secret police, Manuel Contreras, has been jailed for 15 years over the disappearance and death of a young journalist in 1974.

Human rights groups welcomed the move, saying justice was finally being done.

Contreras had already been convicted and served seven years for the killing of a former Chilean foreign minister.

Contreras, the founder of General Augusto Pinochet's much-feared secret police, described the lengthy jail term as absurd and ridiculous.

He still has more than a dozen other cases of human rights violations pending against him.

Torture centre

On Monday, Judge Alejandro Solis in a Santiago court condemned Contreras to a new jail term for ordering the killing of journalist Diana Aaron.

General Pinochet in 2000
Human rights groups say Pinochet's regime killed thousands

She was taken to a notorious torture centre and her body has never been found.

Four other senior members of the secret police organisation were given sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years for their role in the killing.

Contreras set up the secret police unit that played a key role in the early years of repression of the 17-year military government.

As he left the court, Contreras said he was the victim of a left-wing judge who was driven by hatred and was exacting revenge.

The ex-police chief is now in his 70s and has spent years under house arrest, but on Monday he was angry and defiant. He protested his innocence saying that he was out of the country at the time.

'Crucial decision'

A spokesman for Human Rights Watch in Chile welcomed the 15-year sentence, saying the Chilean courts were finally delivering justice.

But he warned that Chile's Supreme Court was set to make a crucial decision this month over another cases involving Contreras.

The former secret police chief was last year condemned to another lengthy jail term over another death.

His lawyers have appealed to the supreme court that an amnesty law should apply in this case.

If this argument is accepted it would have dramatic consequences. The case against Contreras would be dismissed and could impact on pending legal action against him and other people accused of human rights violations.


SEE ALSO:
Pinochet immunity challenge fails
22 Oct 03  |  Americas
Pinochet trial move blocked
27 Aug 03  |  Americas
Pinochet generals admit exhumations
03 Jul 03  |  Americas
Chile drops Pinochet trial
01 Jul 02  |  Americas
Special report: The Pinochet file
09 Jul 01  |  The Pinochet file
Country profile: Chile
26 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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