Chile's Supreme Court ruled Monday former dictator General Augusto Pinochet is not fit to stand trial on charges of human rights violations during his 17-year rule. The high court found the aging Pinochet too ill to face criminal prosecution on charges, including kidnapping and killing political opponents.

The high court decision is expected to end the nearly four years of court appearances by the general, who was first arrested in England in 1998 on a warrant issued by a Spanish judge.

The 86-year-old General Pinochet suffers from diabetes and dementia resulting from a series of strokes over the past several years. In an earlier decision, British courts had also ruled that the former Chilean president was too ill to face charges in the British court system.

There was no immediate comment on Monday's decision from General Pinochet, who lives under heavy police protection and has kept a low profile since his return to Chile.

In its 15-page ruling, the Chilean Supreme Court ordered trial Judge Juan Guzman to halt his investigation of General Pinochet. Judge Guzman has spent the past several years compiling a record of crimes that were allegedly committed during the early years of General Pinochet´s rule.

Although the Pinochet government has been credited with far-reaching economic reforms, the alleged systematic use of torture as well as the reported murder of an estimated three thousand political opponents left a lasting stain on General Pinochet's name.

The high court decision is unlikely to affect the dozens of criminal investigations of ranking military officials. Some 75 Chilean military officers are now in prison, facing life sentences for their conduct during the "dirty war" of the 1970s.