December 7, 2005

Pinochet loses immunity in human rights cases

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - A Chilean court stripped
ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution on
Wednesday so that he can face new human rights charges in 29
cases of people who disappeared during his 17-year rule and are
presumed dead.

The cases are part of Operation Colombo, which involved the
disappearance of 119 members of an armed revolutionary group in
the mid 1970s. Their bodies have never been found.

Pinochet, 90, has been under house arrest since late
November, under indictment for the disappearances of nine other
people in Operation Colombo.

The new immunity ruling adds to mounting court problems for
Pinochet in recent weeks. In November he was also indicted for
tax fraud and other crimes related to an estimated $27 million
he hid in foreign bank accounts.

In the past five years Chilean courts have thrown out three
human rights cases against Pinochet because of his poor health,
including mild dementia caused by frequent mini-strokes.

But recent court-ordered medical examinations determined
that he is mentally fit to face trial.

Pinochet enjoys the immunity from prosecution shared by all
former presidents and Chile's courts must decide the immunity
issue on a case-by-case basis.

The Pinochet regime is also accused of covering up the
Operation Colombo deaths by planting false news stories saying
that members of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement killed each
other in an internal dispute and armed confrontation.