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Tuesday, October 20, 1998 Published at 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK


Campaigners push for Pinochet trial

Demonstrators outside the clinic where General Pinochet is being held

Campaigners against former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet are urging the police to look into the 82-year-old's past with a view to prosecuting him in the UK for torture.

James Robbins: "Deep divisions in Chile"
General Pinochet, under police guard in a private London hospital since his arrest on Friday, already faces the prospect of possible extradition from the UK to Spain to face allegations of mass murder.

Amnesty International, the human rights group Redress Trust, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and the family of William Beausire, a British citizen who disappeared in Chile in 1975, have now made the case for an investigation in the UK.

In a letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon, they argued that a case could be brought under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, which allows for prosecution for torture even if the offence took place in another country.

'Sound case'

The letter argued that a prosecution of the general in the UK would be "of particular importance should the extradition proceedings fail for any reason".

In any case, they argued, there was a sound case for bringing a prosecution here because some of Pinochet's victims were British citizens, and some now live in the UK.

And a group of Chilean exiles based in the UK announced plans to bring a private prosecution against the general alleging torture and murder.

"Now that Pinochet is in custody in London, we for the first time have the opportunity to lay these charges before a British court," a statement from Chileans in Exile, said.

[ image: The general could face prosecution even if he defeats extradition]
The general could face prosecution even if he defeats extradition
Carlos Reyes, president of Chile Democratico, the London-based group which is backing Chileans in Exile's plan for a private prosecution, said: "The legal team will start work tomorrow. It will take a couple of days, perhaps a week, before we can present information to a court."

Meanwhile, a Chilean specialist in international law was travelling to the UK to argue the case that Pinochet's arrest was a violation of diplomatic immunity.

The Chilean ambassador to London, Mario Artaza, said his government was striving for an amicable solution to the diplomatic dispute.

"We are not protecting the dictator of the 1970s. What we are fighting for and discussing with the government is the special situation of a senator in our transition to democracy," he said.

The ambassador said he hoped that the Foreign Office would listen carefully to the arguments put forward by the Chilean law expert.

"The question of his (Pinochet's) diplomatic immunity is crucial to this matter ... because if his immunity is recognised there would be no case."

Calls for UK to stay neutral

A delegation of Chilean officials from two right-wing opposition parties visited General Pinochet in hospital and made a plea with the government to stay out of their country's affairs.

Alberto Espina, a representative of the Renovacion Nacional party, urged the government to remain neutral in the matter.

[ image: Pinochet remains under police guard at the clinic]
Pinochet remains under police guard at the clinic
He said: "We are a free country, we have had a successful, democratic transition. Our problems must be resolved by the Chileans."

Mr Espina also warned that British involvement could have a devastating effect on its relations with Chile and on the fragile political system now established in the South American country.

The Chilean politicians later put their case to Tory peer Lord Lamont.

On Tuesday night the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group backed the calls for a UK trial of Pinochet and sought an urgent meeting with the Attorney General, John Morris.

The group's chairman Ann Clwyd, MP for Cynon Valley, wrote to Mr Morris saying she hoped the Spanish extradition bid succeeded.

If they did not, "we believe that the possibility of prosecuting him in this country under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 should be actively considered by Britain, since we should seize this chance to bring to justice one of the most evil dictators alive".

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