Judges examine documents to decide whether Pinochet may lose immunity


Santiago's Appeal Court judges yesterday began wading through 10,000 pages of documents to determine whether Gen. Augusto Pinochet may be stripped of his immunity for alleged human rights violations committed under his rule (19731990), in a process which may take several months.

Meanwhile, Gen. Pinochet's planned move to his beach home in El Melocoton, outside Santiago, was put in jeopardy by revelations that his next-door neighbour will be the former logistical chief of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), a guerrilla organisation which almost killed him in 1986.

Just over a year ago Mr Rolando Escobar Ibanez, a senior FPMR member, began renting the house right beside Gen. Pinochet's residence, separated only by a ditch and 300 metres of grass.

Mr Escobar Ibanez, exiled in Argentina during the dictatorship years, was formally accused of planning the kidnap of the Chilean army commander, Gen. Carlos Carreno, in 1987, but charges lapsed when the former guerrilla accepted an amnesty drawn up by President Patricio Aylwin, who led the return to constitutional rule in 1990.

Military intelligence officials declared a state of "alert" and sent a formal report to Santiago's Military Court, saying they had "detected" the presence of several FPMR guerrillas in El Melocoton, an event which may be linked to an operation (neither forgiveness not forgetting) in in which the rebel organisation has sworn to kill Gen. Pinochet, a goal reiterated at their convention in Brazil last year.

Meanwhile, Gen. Pinochet's family revealed internal divisions this week, as two of his sons disagreed over alleged statements made by their father. Mr Augusto Pinochet, the dictator's eldest son, claimed that his father expressed "sympathy" for the Socialist president-elect, Mr Ricardo Lagos, due to take office next Saturday.

"He said nothing of the sort," responded Mr Marco Antonio Pinochet, the general's younger son.

Gen. Pinochet, who remains "honorary" head of the armed forces, has enjoyed a brisk social schedule since he arrived home last Friday, greeting family and political allies while keeping up with current events.

"She still loves me" was his ironic comment when the Communist Party leader, Ms Gladys Marin, appeared on television, a sign that the general may not be as mentally incapacitated as British doctors suggested.

In another blow to national reconciliation efforts, human rights lawyers refused to sign the Table of Dialogue accord by which army and human rights representatives agreed to work together toward healing past wounds.