- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

SANTIAGO, Chile An appeals court dropped homicide and kidnapping charges against Gen. Augusto Pinochet yesterday, leaving the former dictator's legal fate in the hands of the Supreme Court.

A panel in the Santiago Court of Appeal voted 3-0 to drop the charges and lift a house arrest order against the 85-year-old retired general.

While the ruling was a clear victory for Gen. Pinochet, it did not bring an end to his long legal battle against accusations stemming from the massive human rights abuses during his 1973-90 rule.

As exultant Pinochet supporters were still celebrating, attorneys for the plaintiffs filed an appeal before the Supreme Court, which could rule by Thursday.

One of the attorneys, Hugo Gutierrez, explained the appeal was written in advance because a ruling favoring Gen. Pinochet was considered likely.

"This was no surprise," Mr. Guttierrez told the Associated Press.

The outcome at the Supreme Court appears uncertain, as at least three of the five judges to issue the verdict voted against Gen. Pinochet when the court stripped him of his congressional immunity, a step that paved the way for his indictment.

Gen. Pinochet was indicted Dec. 1 by Judge Juan Guzman, who held him responsible for abuses by the "Caravan of Death," a military operation that executed political prisoners shortly after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup in which Gen. Pinochet ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende.

Mr. Guzman charged Gen. Pinochet with homicide for 55 of the victims whose bodies were recovered and with kidnapping for 18 who remain unaccounted for.

Gen. Pinochet's defense claimed Mr. Guzman acted illegally by indicting Gen. Pinochet before questioning him, and without first permitting the neurological tests he had ordered Gen. Pinochet to undergo to determine his fitness to stand trial.

The court turned down the plaintiff's argument, shared by Mr. Guzman, that two written questionnaires Gen. Pinochet responded to from his house arrest in London should be considered the mandatory preindictment interrogation.

Lawyer Carmen Hertz, whose husband, journalist Carlos Berger, was one of the missing victims of the Caravan, said the ruling was based merely on "a technicality," such as the lack of an interrogation, but did not address "the essence of the charges."

Mr. Gutierrez said there was no guarantee the Supreme Court will bring a quick end to the case. He said the justices may rule that Mr. Guzman must question Gen. Pinochet and have him undergo the medical tests before issuing its final verdict.

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