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Hand over Pinochet and we'll try him ourselves, says Chile

CHILE yesterday sought to persuade Britain that the former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, would not escape legal action if the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, decided to halt extradition proceedings and send him home, write Hugh O'Shaughnessy and Rachel Sylvester.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the Chilean Foreign Minister, said in London that General Pinochet had no immunity from prosecution in his homeland and might soon face grave criminal charges brought by the Chilean government itself. These would be in addition to the seven private prosecutions that have been lodged against him. Nor would the Chilean government object to Gen Pinochet being tried by a tribunal established by the United Nations, said Mr Insulza. The Government said last night that it would "look closely" at his claims.

Mr Insulza, a socialist who spent years in exile during the military dictatorship, stressed that he was "the first to argue that Pinochet should retire from public life". Government sources said, however, that Mr Insulza's arguments were unlikely to influence Mr Straw, who must decide on Spain's extradition request by 11 December. The decision has to be made on strict legal grounds: only if there were compassionate reasons, if the extradition request was seen as political, if the crimes were not extraditable or if the application had not been made properly made could it be turned down.

The Government is considering making explicit in the State Immunity Act, introduced in 1978, that particular crimes - including genocide and torture - would not be covered by immunity.