France issues Chilean warrants
PARIS, France -- A French judge has issued 15 international arrest warrants for former Chilean officials as part of a probe into the disappearance of French citizens in Chile in the 1970s, a judicial source has said.
The investigation is looking into allegations that the French nationals, who disappeared during former dictator Augusto Pinochet's 1973 - 1990 military dictatorship, were kidnapped and tortured.
Investigating magistrate Roger Le Loire, who issued the warrants, has until the end of the year to wrap up his investigation at which time he could decide to hold a criminal jury trial in absentia of all 15 suspects as well as Pinochet, for whom an outstanding arrest warrant exists.
The 15 warrants include retired General Manuel Contreras, Pinochet's security chief, and Paul Schafer Schneider, former leader of Dignity Colony, a secretive German enclave in southern Chile accused of serving as a detention and torture camp, officials told The Associated Press.
Lawyer William Bourdon, who represents families of the victims, told Reuters: "This decision shows there will be a trial before the end of 2002. (Those) who thought they had gained eternal impunity for themselves... find themselves being pursued 30 years later by a French judge."
"The trial will be both a very historic and symbolic event and enable the families to begin to grieve."
More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during Pinochet's iron-fisted rule in the South American country, according to human rights groups.
A source told Reuters the warrants have been issued in connection with four missing French nationals.
Georges Klein, a doctor and close adviser to late Chilean Socialist President Salvador Allende, went missing on the day of the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power.
Leftist activists Jean-Yves Claudet-Fernandez and Alphonse Chanfreau as well as Etienne Pesle, a priest, also disappeared.
Le Loire has questioned dozens of witnesses in the investigation. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who served under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, was summoned in May to testify on the alleged part played by the U.S. in the killing of Chilean opposition figures during Pinochet's rule. Kissinger declined.
Bourdon said he believes Kissinger's testimony is "essential" to the case because of numerous exchanges between the secret service agencies of the U.S. and Chile after the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power.
Pinochet, 85, was arrested in 1998 while in London and held for 16 months under house arrest as courts decided whether he could be extradited to Spain to face charges there for alleged crimes during his regime. In March 2000, Britain allowed him to return on health grounds to Chile, where prosecutors then sought to try Pinochet.
In July, a Chilean appeals court ruled that Pinochet could not be tried because of his deteriorating health and mental condition. The possibility of a trial, however, was reopened by Chile's top court in a surprise move in August.
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