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The BBC's James Robbins
"Now General Pinochet will stand trial in his own country"
 real 56k

The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago
"This has taken Chile completely by surprise"
 real 28k

Carlos Reyes, of campaigning group Chile Democratico
"I am deeply touched by this news and delighted"
 real 28k

Friday, 1 December, 2000, 23:54 GMT
UK campaigners welcome Pinochet charge
General Pinochet and Baroness Thatcher
Baroness Thatcher is a Pinochet supporter
Human rights campaigners in Britain have welcomed news that an order has been issued for the arrest and trial of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile.

The general is accused of masterminding the so-called "Caravan of Death", in which more than 70 political prisoners disappeared shortly after he came to power in a military coup in 1973.

He returned to Chile this March after being detained in London for 15 months awaiting a UK decision on whether he should be extradited to Spain to be tried on torture charges.

Home secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw ruled General Pinochet was free to leave Britain
He was allowed to return home after the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, ruled he was too old and sick to undergo trial.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said Friday's news was a vindication of more than 25 years' campaigning by Pinochet's victims.

"And it is an absolute vindication of those of us who campaigned in Europe during the 18 months he was held here," he added.

"That allowed the political space to develop in Chile which has led to today's order."

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organisation that backed moves last year to extradite Pinochet from the UK, said the move could be "extremely significant".

"For many years, there have been many layers of impunity preventing justice and the investigation of the crimes that took place during Pinochet's time in office," said spokesman Richard Bunting.

Pinochet supporter
Pinochet supporters gathered for his birthday last week

"At long last, we might be seeing the beginnings of justice for the people who were killed, tortured and `disappeared' and for their relatives."

Carlos Reyes, a member of London-based human rights group Chile Democratico, who was himself tortured under the Pinochet regime, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that many of his countrymen would be dancing in the streets at the news.

He said: "Pinochet should be tried and judged for the crimes he committed during so many years of dictatorship.

"It will help a lot of people in Chile to come to terms with what happened there and will allow us to start our transition to a better life in Chile."

The director of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in London, Helen Bamber, said the order will rekindle hope among victims that they might one day see justice done.

Atrocities

The Labour chair of the Commons All-Party Human Rights Group, Ann Clwyd said she was "grinning from ear to ear" when she heard the news on her car radio.

But she said Britain could not be proud of its part in the affair.

"We can't go around saying that there is no hiding place for war criminals if they come into our grasp and we let them go," she said.

General Pinochet's supporters, meanwhile, have deplored the latest move in the protracted legal battle over his fate.

The former military ruler was recently stripped of his congressional immunity from prosecution.

But he may still escape trial if medical tests ordered a month ago find that he is insane or suffering from dementia.

According to an official report, more than 3,000 people died or are missing, presumed dead, following the coup.

General Pinochet faces 177 criminal complaints stemming from alleged human rights violations during his rule.

Last week, he made a hesitant admission of responsibility for atrocities committed by the military while he was in power.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | Americas
Pinochet charged with kidnapping
02 Nov 00 | Americas
Court orders more tests for Pinochet
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Analysis: The Pinochet factor
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