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The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago
"Supporters say his health has become very serious"
 real 28k

The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago
"How ill is he? - is basically the main point of the argument"
 real 28k

Sunday, 13 February, 2000, 00:49 GMT
Doubt over Pinochet health fears

The general has been in poor health for some time

Doubt has been cast on claims that the health of former Chilean General Augusto Pinochet has seriously deteriorated.

Supporters of the general from the Pinochet Foundation in Santiago said two of his grandsons were flying to London after a sudden worsening in the 84-year-old's health.

He was "very seriously depressed" and his diabetes had worsened, said retired General Luis Cortes Villa, the head of the foundation.

If Pinochet, his family and supporters wish to be believed, they should make his medical details public
The Chile Committee for Justice
"This is truly serious, and it is not being announced with the goal of alarming anyone," he said.

But a UK Home Office spokeswoman said: "There is no obligation for his doctors to inform us, but certainly we know nothing about any new health problems."

And campaigners hoping to keep the general in Britain also doubted suggestions that his condition had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.

General Pinochet has been under house arrest for 16 months following a Spanish extradition order over human rights abuse charges.

But Home Secretary Jack Straw has said he is "minded" not to allow the general's extradition after considering confidential health reports.

Since then appeals by Belgium and Amnesty International have blocked the general's return to Chile.

The pinochet File
Belgium is seeking to have the confidential medical report on which Mr Straw based his decision made public, a move on which appeal court judges are to rule next week.

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, which has called for a new examination on the general to be carried out with an expert psychiatrist, said the reports fitted into a familiar pattern.

A spokesman said: "Whenever there is an important decision about to be made about the Pinochet case, such as the one expected next week, we see claims being made about his health.

"We know he is suffering from several complaints but that should not divert from the necessity of the details of his condition being made available to those states seeking his extradition."

The Chile Committee for Justice, a coalition of Chilean community organisations and British human rights groups, was also not convinced by the claims.

Judge Garzon Judge Baltasar Garzon wants the general to stand trial
A spokesman said: "If Pinochet, his family and supporters wish to be believed, they should make his medical details public."

Chile's ambassador to Britain said the general's health had deteriorated under the strain of waiting for a final decision on whether he should be allowed home.

But Pablo Cabrera said some of the general's supporters had taken an overly optimistic view that he would be travelling home within day's of Mr Straw's announcement last month.

He said the general himself was finding it a strain knowing that while a Chilean air force plane awaited him at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, he was still not free to leave Britain.

Killing and kidnapping

However, the ambassador said reports about his condition had been the cause of unnecessary alarm.

Since General Pinochet was arrested in October 1998, his supporters have often spoken of a deterioration in his health. He suffers from several illnesses.

The former Chilean leader has spent 16 months under house arrest near London at the request of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.

He wanted the former dictator tried in Spain on torture charges stemming from his 1973-1990 regime, which stands accused of killing or kidnapping more than 3,500 people.

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See also:
23 Jan 00 |  Health
How ill is Pinochet?
20 Jan 00 |  The Pinochet file
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
12 Jan 00 |  UK
The Pinochet case: 15 months in three minutes

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