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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Court strips Pinochet of immunity
Augusto Pinochet
Pinochet has so far managed to avoid prosecution
Chile's Supreme Court has ruled former military ruler Augusto Pinochet can face charges related to the killing of 119 dissidents.

Gen Pinochet is accused of direct involvement in the death of at least 15 activists in a 1975 secret police operation known as Operation Colombo.

It is the third human rights case in which the Supreme Court has lifted the former military ruler's immunity.

But in the previous two cases, a court ruled he was too ill to stand trial.

Health problems

The acting president of the Supreme Court, Judge Jose Benquis, told reporters the panel had voted 10-6 to lift Gen Pinochet's immunity.

The ruling, which is final, upholds a sentence issued in July by the Santiago Appeals Court.

In 1975, Gen Pinochet's police allegedly abducted and killed 119 political opponents.

Their bodies were later found in neighbouring Argentina.

News stories were published in Argentina and Brazil claiming that the dissidents, divided in rival armed factions, had died in internecine clashes.

But human rights groups say the reports were planted by the Chilean regime.

Gen Pinochet is accused of dozens of human rights abuses, but the immunity he enjoys as a former head of state has to be challenged on a case-by-case basis.

So far, charges against him have been thrown out in two cases on grounds of his ill health.

But critics have accused the 89-year-old, who suffers from diabetes, heart problems and mild dementia linked to minor strokes, of exaggerating his health problems to avoid standing trial.

During Gen Pinochet's rule, between 1973 and 1990, some 3,000 people died in political violence.

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