Britons told not to travel to Chile

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet will learn at the High Court today whether he has escaped extradition to Spain to stand trial for torture, kidnapping and mass murder.

The court ruling, on a challenge by the President's lawyers over the legality of his arrest, comes after the Foreign Office warned Britons against travelling to Chile and advised those already there to keep a "low profile".

The warning followed what was described as incidents of abuse and attacks on people mistaken for being British. The Foreign Office stated: "The situation is volatile and could change without warning, with British commercial interests being targets of mob violence. British nationals in Chile should keep a low profile, avoid crowds ... and areas where the English-speaking community gather."

Any Britons in Chile for more than a brief period were advised to register with the embassy in Santiago. In the meantime, 35 British tourists, travelling with the over-50s holiday company Saga has been offered the chance of alternative destinations and flights home.

At the High Court this afternoon, Lord Chief Justice Bingham, sitting with Mr Justice Collins and Mr Justice Richards, will deliver their ruling on an application for judicial review and a writ of habeas corpus presented by General Pinochet's lawyers. However, if he is freed the Crown Prosecution Service can appeal to the House of Lords, asking him to be kept under arrest, or for the imposition of bail conditions while awaiting documentation from Spain, and other countries.

Strenuous efforts are also being made to have him prosecuted in Britain on charges of torture. Lawyers for a group of four former political prisoners have lodged a formal request with the Attorney General, John Morris QC, to consider prosecuting General Pinochet under the Criminal Justice Act of l988. Under Section 134 of the Act, UK courts can try a foreign national for alleged torture even if the offence takes place abroad.

All four victims are women and had been, it is alleged, subjected to "horrific abuse", including sexual attacks. Three of them are resident in the Britain, the fourth is living abroad, but not in Chile. None of them want their identities disclosed at this stage. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office said the request was being considered "as quickly as possible".

David Burgess, of the London solicitors Winstanley-Burgess, acting on behalf of the four women, said: "The Criminal Justice Act presents an avenue to bring torturers to trial, and also ensures there are no boundary limits protecting these people. The time is right to take this action. These victims have suffered terribly, and they have waited a long time."

Amnesty International has also submitted a dossier to police alleging that General Pinochet was responsible for the torture of a "disappeared" British subject, William Bausire in l975

As well as the Spanish extradition request, Switzerland has issued a warrant relating to the disappearance of Swiss-Chilean student. Another warrant is expected from Sweden over alleged crimes in Chile against Swedish nationals.

Cook denies `chaos', page 8