Pinochet's lawyers appeal indictment of former dictator

SANTIAGO, Chile - Lawyers for Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Saturday appealed his indictment on homicide and kidnapping charges, claiming the former dictator has been ''subject to irregular and arbitrary acts.''

In the appeal filed at the Santiago Court of Appeals, the lawyers argued that Chilean Judge Juan Guzman indicted Pinochet without even questioning him first.

''Gen. Pinochet has been denied the right to state his case,'' said Fernando Barros, a top member of Pinochet's legal team.

Friday's indictment, which angered Pinochet's followers and delighted his foes, came as a surprise, because Guzman himself had ordered Pinochet to undergo mental tests to determine whether he was fit to stand trial. The tests have not yet begun.

Guzman charged Pinochet in connection with the ''Caravan of Death,'' one of the most notorious cases of human rights violations during his 1973-90 reign.

The caravan was a military party that killed 73 political prisoners in various cities shortly after Pinochet led a 1973 coup that ousted socialist President Salvador Allende.

Guzman filed homicide charges against Pinochet for 55 of the victims whose bodies have been accounted for, and kidnapping charges for 18 others who remain missing.

Plaintiffs, human rights activists and relatives of the victims claim the members of the caravan acted on orders from Pinochet.

Guzman also ordered the 85-year-old Pinochet placed under house arrest, a measure that can be implemented only after Pinochet has been formally notified of his indictment. That is expected to happen Monday or Tuesday.

Pinochet remained Saturday at his heavily guarded countryside residence in Los Boldos, 80 miles southwest of Santiago.

Pinochet faces 187 criminal complaints stemming from human rights abuses during his long reign. Guzman last August succeeded in having him stripped of his congressional immunity paving the way for the indictment he issued Friday.

The indictment adds to a series of legal setbacks for Pinochet since his arrest in October 1998 in London. He was released in March on health grounds and returned to Chile. He suffers from diabetes, has a pacemaker and has been hit by three mild strokes in the last two years. He walks with a cane and often has to be helped by bodyguards.

While the indictment is considered a major setback for Pinochet, the appeals by his lawyers are expected to drag on for months, if not years.

A 1978 amnesty law issued by Pinochet bars prosecutions for crimes committed during the most violent years of his rule. But the kidnapping charge against Pinochet offers a loophole: It refers to 18 caravan victims who are still missing, and until the bodies are found, the Supreme Court has agreed the cases can be considered kidnappings, which are ''ongoing crimes,'' and therefore exempted from amnesty .

The homicide charges against Pinochet appear to fall under the amnesty law, but Guzman has argued that amnesty can only be applied after an investigation and trial.


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