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Will Pinochet ever stand trial?
Two observers give their views
 real 28k

The BBC's James Reynolds
Pinochet is now on the defensive
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 01:56 GMT
Pinochet faces 'death caravan' charges

General Pinochet arrived back in Chile last week
A Chilean judge has begun moves to strip the country's former military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, of immunity from prosecution for a series of murders conducted under his rule.

The pinochet File
Judge Juan Guzman asked the appeals court in Santiago to lift the immunity - which the general enjoys as a life-long senator - in connection with a killing spree conducted shortly after General Pinochet assumed power in 1973.

The so-called "caravan of death" involved the killing of at least 70 political opponents throughout Chile.

The judge's action is the first step towards a possible trial, but observers say the whole process could take many months.

Relative of those who died under Pinochet
Relatives demand justice for those who died under Pinochet
The judge is currently investigating 66 lawsuits brought against General Pinochet for crimes allegedly committed during his 1973-1990 military regime.

These cases include five new cases which were opened on Monday.


This is the moment of truth for Chile

Lawyer Carmen Hertz
The "caravan of death" was run by a group of officers who travelled around Chile by helicopter, seeking political opponents who had been earmarked for execution.

Some of the victims are believed to have been thrown into the sea tied to concrete blocks, while others were thrown from the helicopter over the mountains.

Medical tests

"This is the moment of truth for Chile," said lawyer Carmen Hertz, whose husband was murdered at the time of the "caravan".

"Now we will see if the promises of the government and the courts of putting Pinochet on trial come true."

Judge Guzman has said he will order new medical tests to be carried out to determine whether the general is fit to stand trial.

Chile's legal process
Appeal Court and Supreme Court decide whether to lift immunity
Supreme Court decides whether military or civilian court should try Pinochet
Medical tests to determine fitness for trial
The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago says the appeals court must now decide whether it agrees with Judge Guzman. If it does so, many months of legal wrangling are expected to follow.

Observers have said that the Chilean process could take at least as long as the 17-month legal wranglings over General Pinochet's extradition from the UK.

The 84-year-old retired general has not been seen since late on Friday when he was discharged from a hospital after medical tests following his return from Britain.

He had spent 17 months there fighting extradition to Spain and other European countries where he was wanted on human rights charges.

UK awards costs

On Monday, the High Court in Britain awarded him legal costs estimated at up to 500,000.

The money is to pay for work done by his lawyers at earlier hearings and in preparation for a forthcoming legal challenge which has now been abandoned.

Chile's president-elect Ricardo Lagos promised in a recent interview to ensure that Chilean courts are free to investigate General Pinochet.

"Anything else would mean our democracy was a lie." Mr Lagos - a leading dissident during the military era - told the Brazilian weekly Veja.

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See also:

06 Mar 00 |  UK
Pinochet wins legal costs
20 Jan 00 |  The Pinochet file
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
03 Mar 00 |  Media reports
Pinochet in the Spanish and Chilean media
04 Mar 00 |  Americas
Thousands march against Pinochet
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