Free him now, says Thatcher

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The Independent Online

Lady Thatcher called for General Augusto Pinochet to be released from arrest last night and allowed to return to Chile as a friend of Britain.

Lady Thatcher called for General Augusto Pinochet to be released from arrest last night and allowed to return to Chile as a friend of Britain.

The former Prime Minister, who had dinner with the ex-dictator before his arrest contrasted the General's support for Britain during the Falklands War with the welcome being accorded next week to President Menem of Argentina.

"It would be disgraceful to preach reconciliation with one, while maintaining under arrest someone who, during that same conflict, did so much to save so many British lives," said Lady Thatcher.

Tony Blair waded into the diplomatic row over the arrest yesterday, denying that it was the result of the Government's "ethical foreign policy". The Prime Minister spoke as visiting Chilean MPs warned that General Pinochet was in "extremely delicate" health after his arrest on Friday.

Mr Blair told the French daily Le Monde that the arrest was "simply the result of two judicial systems, Spanish and British, joined together by an extradition treaty.

"It can't be a government decision because that would be tantamount to interfering in our judiciary system," he said.

Meanwhile, The Independent has learnt that the US administration is still hiding large quantities of secret documents in its possession about human rights violations that occurred in the Pinochet years.

Baltasar Garzon and Manuel Garcia Castellon, the Spanish judges seeking his extradition to Spain officially asked Washington last year for information concerning US involvement with his regime.

According to Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive much of the information about human rights violations in Chile is still being kept secret for fear of political embarrassment to the US.

Much of the US secret material relates to Operation Condor, an international organisation of death and terror squads run jointly by the military in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.