July 6, 2005

Pinochet loses immunity in rights case

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - A Chilean appeals court ruled
by a narrow margin on Wednesday that former dictator Augusto
Pinochet can face charges related to the 1975 cover-up of the
deaths of dozens of leftists, known as Operation Colombo.

Judge Juan Escobar, president of the Santiago Appeals
Court, told reporters that the court voted 11-10 to remove
Pinochet's immunity from prosecution in the human rights case.

Pinochet's defense is expected to appeal the ruling to the
Supreme Court, as it has in prior cases.

Judge Victor Montiglio, who is investigating and
prosecuting the Operation Colombo case, wants to charge
Pinochet, with responsibility in covering up the deaths of
between 20 and 119 armed rebels from the Revolutionary Leftist

The cover-up involved planting news stories alleging that
the guerrillas died fighting among themselves.

Human rights lawyers say they were taken prisoner and
secretly killed.

Pinochet, 89, ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He is accused
of dozens of human rights abuses and has been formally charged
in a few cases. Courts must decide on a case-by-case basis
whether to remove his immunity, a privilege of former

But no case has come to a conclusion because Pinochet's
defense has successfully argued that he is too frail to defend
himself. He has a heart condition, diabetes and mild dementia
caused by frequent mini-strokes.

More than 3,000 people were killed in political violence in
the Pinochet era, and tens of thousands were imprisoned,
tortured and exiled in the military's repression of leftists.