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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 00:57 GMT 01:57 UK

World: Americas

US releases secret Pinochet files

Relatives of Chile's "disappeared" examine the newly released documents

The US Government has released more than 5,000 previously secret documents relating to the early years of General Augusto Pinochet's military rule in Chile.

The pinochet File
They confirm that the CIA was reporting to Washington that widespread repression was taking place within days of the 1973 coup against the elected Marxist President, Salvador Allende.

State Department spokesman James Foley said that the release was part of a "voluntary review" of government files referring to human rights abuses, terrorism and other acts of political violence.

More than 25,000 pages from 5,800 documents related to events in Chile from 1973 to 1978 were declassified.

Communist fears

The BBC's James Reynolds in Satiago: "Investigators will be looking for evidence of US involvement in the 1973 coup"
At the time the Nixon administration had feared that Mr Allende's election would make Chile a communist foothold in South America.

Ten days after the coup, the CIA bureau reported: "The prevailing mood among the Chilean military is to use the current opportunity to stamp out all vestiges of communism in Chile for good. Severe repression is planned."

[ image: Pinochet (left) seized power a month after Allende made him head of the armed forces]
Pinochet (left) seized power a month after Allende made him head of the armed forces
A month later it reported: "The regime shows no sign of relenting in its determination to deal swiftly and decisively with dissidents ... and the bloodshed goes on."

Later reports however played down some claims of abuse saying the accusations against the Pinochet regime "are traceable to a worldwide Communist-orchestrated campaign to discredit the junta.

Files on the 1976 assassination in Washington of Chile's former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, have been withheld.

More releases

Future releases of US government documents are expected although some material has been withheld to protect individual's privacy, intelligence-gathering sources, diplomatic activities and law enforcement matters.

[ image: The period was one of the most violent during 17 years of military rule]
The period was one of the most violent during 17 years of military rule
US officials have stressed that the decision to release the documents has nothing to do with the extradition proceedings currently facing General Pinochet.

He is currently under house arrest outside London awaiting the outcome of Spain's attempt to extradite him.

However, the documents released on Wednesday will not shed any more light on the charges he is facing.

In deciding to allow the extradition request to proceed, the House of Lords, the UK's highest court, ruled that he could not face charges related to crimes committed before 1988 when the UK government ratified the international convention on torture.

Nonetheless correspondents say any details of American support for the general could prove embarrassing for Washington.

Last December, the Clinton administration admitted Washington had committed serious mistakes in its involvement in South America during the Cold War.

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