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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 18:30 GMT
Why Belgium cares about Pinochet

"We shall win" say the Belgian anti-Pinochet demonstrators

Belgium's interest in extraditing the former Chilean dictator General Pinochet derives from the families of alleged victims of his military government who have settled in the country.

A group of exiles made their way to Belgium after the 1973 coup, many of whom now hold dual nationilty.

The pinochet File
According to journalist Philippe Berkendaum of Le Soir in Brussels, the Belgium media has shown more interest in Chile than in any other Latin American country.

General Pinochet's arrest in London in October 1998 was covered in depth in the press and on television.

Mr Berkendaum says Belgian public opinion is strongly in favour of General Pinochet being brought to justice.

protest Belgians protest outside the British embassy

If people could be convinced that would happen in Chile, he says, then they would be in favour of him going home, but people don't believe he will be tried in Chile.

Legal Case

Belgian lawyers representing the families of Chileans who disappeared or were killed or tortured have prepared six cases for Augusto Pinochet to answer.

Belgium is one of four countries seeking Mr Pinochet's extradition.

With six human rights groups, it is mounting a legal challenge to the UK Government's decision to let him go home to Chile.

International profile

The Belgian press is delighted at the international profile that the extradition battle is giving the country.

In an editorial, Le Soir noted triumphantly: "Belgium once again exists on the international stage. The little rebel that dares to defy this United Kingdom that remains imperialist, even if it is Blairite," a reference to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It went on: "Belgium brandishing the flag of justice in the face of the banners of reasons of state."

louis michel FM Louis Michel : "Symbol of the fight against dictatorship"
Foreign Affairs Minister Louis Michel has made some strong statements about the case.

It's a matter of "showing past and future dictators that history can catch up with them," he said.

"We are a symbol of the fight against dictatorship, and Belgium must fulfill its role."

Journalist Berkendaum says part of what Le Soir describes as"'our pleasure, a delicate cocktail of excitement and a sense of being in the right" over the case is to do with the big change in Belgium's domestic politics.

After 40 years of little political change, last June's elections brought in the so-called "Rainbow Coalition" of Liberals, Socialists and Greens.

Mr Berkendaum says the novelty of the change has yet to wear off, and Belgians are revelling in a big change in the tone of Belgian diplomacy.

Belgium had said that it would pursue the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

However there are now indications that if attempts to obtain the judicial review before the High Court in London fail, the Belgian Government may take it no further for fear of a row with Britain.

A spokesman quoted Minister Michel as saying: "Recourse to the International Court of Justice would make us leave the legal field and enter the political field, which would risk provoking a grave conflict between two member-states of the European Union."

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See also:
23 Jan 00 |  Health
How ill is Pinochet?
21 Jan 00 |  Europe
Straw pressured over Pinochet report

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