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Pinochet Fit For Trial, House Arrest Order Suspended


Retired General Augusto Pinochet has been charged with killing and kidnapping opponents during his 17-year military rule and briefly placed under house arrest on Monday.

Pablo Rodriguez Grez, lead lawyer for General Pinochet, immediately appealed the house arrest ruling Monday. Hours later an appeals court accepted the defense arguments and suspended the arrest order against Mr. Pinochet. A ruling on that appeal is expected in one to two days.

The case is now likely to go before the Chilean Supreme Court for a final ruling.

Judge Juan Guzman charged General Pinochet in connection with the murder of one person and the kidnapping of nine others during what was known as "Operation Condor," a plan by a number of South American dictatorships to execute and kidnap hundreds of left-wing activists in the 1970s.

Court documents state that "Operation Condor" was largely organized by the DINA secret police, working under the direct control of General Pinochet, then commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Monday's decision reverses earlier court decisions, both in Chile and Britain, which had determined that a series of minor strokes left the former dictator mentally incapacitated and unable to stand trial.

Judge Guzman, told reporters that General Pinochet demonstrated "extraordinary subtlety" and coherent mental capacity during a 2003 interview given to WLDP, Channel 22, a Miami TV station.

That interview, which the former leader called "the last interview I will give in my life," shows an aged, but coherent man describing his place in history. General Pinochet told the interviewer in his words, "I harbor no hatred or rancor. I am good. I feel like an angel." He said: "I have kindness. Whenever I can do something to help someone, I do it, to help anyone."

This is the second time Judge Guzman has placed General Pinochet under house arrest. In 2001, the former Chilean leader was under house arrest for 42 days. In Britain, General Pinochet was held for 503 days, after being arrested during a private visit to London in October 1998.

Earlier this month, the Chilean Supreme Court stripped General Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for a 1974 car bombing attack against Carlos Pratts, a Chilean army general, who staunchly opposed General Pinochet and the 1973 military coup, which led to the overthrow and death of President Salvador Allende.

Government reports estimate that 31 hundred Chileans were murdered and 28 thousand tortured during General Pinochet's 17-year dictatorship.

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