Straw faces huge Pinochet revolt

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The Independent Online
JACK STRAW will be warned today that he faces a rebellion by 120 Labour MPs if he allows General Augusto Pinochet to return to Chile to face trial in his own country.

The Home Secretary, who faces the most agonising decision of his career, came under strong pressure yesterday from the Chilean government for the 83-year-old former dictator to be brought to justice in his homeland.

But Chile's move was dismissed as a "smokescreen" by the MPs, who warned that General Pinochet would never be tried if he were allowed to return home.

This week Mr Straw will weigh up representations on the case made before today's deadline. He has until 11 December to decide whether the general should face extradition to Spain, which wants to prosecute him for murder and torture during his regime, after last week's ruling by the law lords that the general does not enjoy immunity from prosecution.

The evidence submitted to Mr Straw includes a strongl worded plea from the all-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, which has been passed to The Independent. Most of its 150 members are Labour MPs, and its letter will leave the Home Secretary in no doubt that he would alienate a huge section of Labour Party opinion if he allowed General Pinochet to return to Chile.

Although the Commons would have no opportunity to block Mr Straw's decision, one former minister said yesterday: "He would never be forgiven if he gets this wrong. For a lot of us, he would be finished."

In their letter to Mr Straw, the MPs said: "Claims have been made that General Pinochet would face prosecution if he were allowed to return to Chile. These cases stand no chance of success given the constitutional blocks provided by the amnesty laws. The Supreme Court of Chile has twice upheld the amnesty laws."

The group dismissed suggestions that the General should be allowed home because of his age: "It has become clear that the primary reason for his visit to the UK was to conduct business. Many of his victims and their families are also old and frail, and have spent many years trying to obtain justice. Such humanitarian grounds should be applied to them also."

The MPs dismissed the claim that Chile's democracy would be undermined if General Pinochet faced trial abroad, pointing to opinion polls which showed that 62 per cent of Chileans supported the extradition proceedings.

Chile will today submit a formal request for General Pinochet to be brought to justice in his own country, a move that has clear attractions for British ministers worried that extraditing him to Spain would jeopardise Britain's diplomatic and trade links with Chile.

A Downing Street spokesman sought yesterday to squash speculation that such a compromise was under discussion with Chile. "There is no deal. It's a judicial decision, not a political one," he said.

Alternatively, Mr Straw could halt the process now under the 1989 Extradition Act, which allows exemptions on compassionate grounds or if offences are political.

In interviews in Britain, Jose Miguel Insulza, the Chilean Foreign Minister, suggested that the general would face trial by a state prosecution rather than the 14 private actions under way. He added: "Of course you can never say, `We assure you he is going to jail'."

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