The Pinochet Decision: 'A victory not for us, but for mankind'

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The Independent Online
THE HOME Secretary's decision sent a wave of joy and optimism coursing through victims' supporters and families who have campaigned for years to bring the former Chilean dictator to justice.

The conservative government in Madrid, which secretly hoped the general would be sent back to Chile, expressed complete respect for Jack Straw's ruling. A spokesman said it was now up to British and Spanish courts to decide whether the 83-year-old general would be extradited to Spain.

"I'm so happy," said Marcela Pradena, a Chilean lawyer who has worked in Spain since she fled imprisonment and torture under General Pinochet more than 20 years ago. "Now things are much easier. I'm optimistic."

Pat Bennets, who lives in Spain and whose brother, the British priest Michael Woodward, was tortured and killed during the dictatorship, said yesterday: "It's wonderful news, fabulous."

Viviana Diaz's father was a Communist leader who disappeared after being arrested by General Pinochet's security forces. Now vice-president of the campaigning group, Families of the Disappeared, she said Mr Straw's decision was an historic one. "It is not only important for us and our loved ones, but for all of mankind," she said.

But at the Pinochet Foundation, sorrow and anger followed the decision. The foundation is a private organisation of Pinochet supporters, including retired officers. Its president, Hernan Briones, vowed that Mr Straw's decision would be appealed. "This is not the end of our battle," he said.

Chile's government did not immediately react. Officials said the first word would come from the President, Eduardo Frei, who is on a visit to Brazil. The White House was also unusually slow to voice a reaction.

French lawyers seeking to bring General Pinochet to court welcomed the British decision. Lawyer William Bourdon said France's request for the general's extradition should follow its course. "If London rejects Spain's extradition request, it will have to look into the French request," he said.

Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of President Francois Mitterrand, who heads the France Libertes human rights group, said: "Justice must follow its course so that the truth comes out on the fate of the victims and the responsibility of the torturers."

The Valencian lawyer Joan Garces, who worked with former president Salvador Allende as legal adviser before General Pinochet's 1973 coup, has been building Spain's case against the dictator since July 1996. "I'm happy that this is proceeding as any normal extradition request, although this is more serious and of greater significance," he said.

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