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Chilean secret police head sentenced to two life terms

Latest update : 2008-07-01

Manuel Contreras, secret police chief under former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, was sentenced Monday for the murder of an army chief and his wife in Argentina. The 1973-1990 dictatorship saw thousands killed and tortured.

SANTIAGO, June 30 (Reuters) - A Chilean judge on Monday
added two life terms to the jail time of Augusto Pinochet's
secret police chief for the murder of a former army chief and
his wife in Argentina, the toughest penalty for
dictatorship-era abuses to date.

Manuel Contreras, the former head of operations at the
infamous DINA intelligence service, which ran torture centers
where hundreds of people were killed, has already been
sentenced to over 200 years jail for a series of other crimes.

Magistrate Alejandro Solis sentenced Contreras, 79, for the
murder of former Chilean Army Commander Carlos Prats and his
wife, Sofia Cuthbert, in a car bomb attack in the Argentine
capital, Buenos Aires, in 1974.

He also sentenced 8 former DINA agents to jail terms of
varying lengths.

Contreras' lawyer could not be reached for comment.

"This sentence is justice for all that our parents lived
through," Angelica Prats, one of the murdered couple's
daughters, told reporters at the courts.

Her sister Cecilia lamented the fact that Pinochet, who
died in 2006, never faced a full trial for crimes during his
1973-1990 dictatorship, when about 3,000 people were killed and
another 28,000 tortured -- most of them suspected leftists.

President Michelle Bachelet and her mother were among those

About 200,000 people fled into exile during the Pinochet

"The country is clear he (Pinochet) was among the group of
people who attacked our father," Cecilia Prats said.

Rights groups and the relatives of the dictatorship's
victims say Chile's wheels of justice are turning too slowly,
and have accused the armed forces of shielding their own.

Only about 24 security officials have been convicted of
crimes, nearly two decades after the dictatorship ended, while
nearly 500 are under investigation.

In May, 98 former soldiers and secret police from
Pinochet's rule were swept up in the biggest single mass arrest
for abuses during the period.

"It is not easy to investigate human rights violations,"
Justice Minister Carlos Maldonado.

"In a case like this, a horrendous crime against a former
army commander in chief and his wife, a terrorist attack in
another country, it is great to be able to move forward for
truth and justice."

Date created : 2008-07-01