Chile `will not try Pinochet'

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A GROUP of Chilean public figures with links to the Santiago government yesterday urged Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, not to be hoodwinked into believing Augusto Pinochet will face justice in his home country if he is sent back.

At the same time the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, made up of international jurists, told Britain it would breach the Convention Against Torture, which it has signed, if it refused to extradite the former dictator to Spain on charges of genocide, terrorism and torture.

The lobbying over General Pinochet escalated with the decision by Mr Straw this week on extradition. On a recent visit to Britain, Jose Miguel Insulza, the Chilean Foreign Minister, pressed for legal proceedings to be aborted and for General Pinochet to be freed, with the prospect of facing trial at home on charges of human-rights abuses. He said Chile already has a truth and reconciliation commission looking at these issues.

But a group of academics and civil servants, including one involved in the truth commission and a former chief of staff of the centre-right Christian Democrats, said in a letter to a British newspaper that this was a false premise and that General Pinochet will walk free. They also deny his trial will endanger democracy in Chile.

The letter, signed by, among others, Tomas Vial, formerly with the truth commission, and Sergio Espejo, former chief of staff to the presidency of the Christian Democrats, said the alleged mass-murderer had given himself amnesty.

Sir Norman Fowler, Tory home-affairs spokesman, criticised Mr Straw's decision to let the law take its course.

But a visiting Chilean MP and advocate of freeing General Pinochet said: "It's only after coming over here that I realise how little influence the Conservatives have. What we need to do is convince the Labour Party of our case."