The Pinochet Decision: Envoy recalled as anger mounts in Chile , '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.

Spain's conservative government, 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 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: "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 historic. "It is not only important for us and our loved ones, but for all of mankind."

But in Chile there was anger. "This is not the end of our battle," said Hernan Briones, head of the Pinochet Foundation, a private organisation of Pinochet supporters in the capital, Santiago. The Interior Minister, Raul Troncos, said the government was recalling its ambassador from London.

In Brazil where Chile's President, Eduardo Frei, is attending a summit, leaders of six South American states plan to sign a document today criticising the ruling. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile will say they reject "the unilateral and extraterritorial application of national laws ... which violate ... the sovereignty of states".

The White House was unusually slow to voice a reaction. But French lawyers seeking to bring General Pinochet to court welcomed the decision. William Bourdon, a lawyer, said: "If London rejects Spain's extradition request, it will have to look into the French request."

Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of former 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 his legal adviser, has been building Spain's case against the dictator since 1996. "I'm happy this is proceeding as any normal extradition request," he said, " although this is more serious."