Heavy prison sentences for Pinochet-era officials

A Paris court on Friday slammed 13 Pinochet-era officials accused of having a hand in the disappearance of four French citizens in the 1970s with prison sentences of 15 years to life. The charges against them included kidnapping and torture.


AFP - A Paris court on Friday handed out sentences of 15 years to life to officials linked to late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet accused of involvement in the disappearance of four French citizens.

The court acquitted one of the 14 being tried in absentia who were mostly military officers during the regime that lasted from 1973 to 1990 and who include Manuel Contreras, the former head of Chile's Dina secret police.

The charges against them were kidnapping, arbitrary detention, torture and barbarous acts.

Contreras is believed to have played a role in many of the 3,000 murders and disappearances in the "dirty war" against the left conducted during the Pinochet dictatorship.

He is currently serving life in a Chilean jail for assassinating the defence chief of leftist president Salvador Allende, who was toppled by Pinochet in a bloody US-backed coup in 1973.

Pinochet was himself implicated in the disappearance of the four men who vanished shortly after he came to power, but he died in 2006 without ever facing trial.

The French nationals disappeared between 1973 and 1975. Their wives, children and brothers and sisters have attended the Paris trial that opened on December 8.

"Of course, Chile does not extradite its nationals but Chile will be their prison and if they cross a border, they will be arrested," Sophie Thonon, a lawyer for families taking a civil suit against the men, said before the trial.

The missing are George Klein, who was a former advisor to Allende, a priest and two members of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR).

Hubert Pesle, the brother of Etienne Pesle, a former priest who disappeared in 1973 and who had been in charge of implementing Allende's rural reforms, said the families "need to finally have some elements of truth."

George Klein was arrested the day Pinochet's forces attacked Allende's presidential palace in the capital Santiago at the start of the coup.

Alphonse Chanfreau and Jean-Yves Claudet-Fernandez, the two members of the MIR, disappeared in 1974 and 1975 respectively. Their bodies were never found.

Claudet-Fernandez was detained in Argentina as part of Operation Condor, a programme in which Latin American intelligence agencies cooperated in the kidnapping of Chileans who had fled their country during the Pinochet regime.

Pinochet died in December 2006 at a military hospital in Santiago, at the age of 91, after evading repeated attempts to bring him to trial.

Two weeks before his death, he took responsibility for actions committed under his rule, but never apologized for the suffering he caused.

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