War in the Balkans: Timetable: Day 23

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The Independent Online
Thursday 15th April

12.00-3.00am: Shelling around the border point of Morina, the main route out of Kosovo for 300,000refugees in recent weeks.

12.30am: Five explosions heard in central Belgrade.

1.35am: Nato missiles reported to have landed in Samaila, west of Kraljevo.

3.30am: Tanjug reports seven explosions in and around Nis and says a bridge in Jasika was destroyed.

9.00-11.am: Machine gun and artillery fire continues along the Yugolsav and Albanian border.

10.00am: Tanjug reports three blasts in Pristina.

1.00pm: Nato says a bomb from a plane appeared to have mistakenly hit a refugee convoy.

2.15pm: Nato "deeply regretted" causing civilian deaths in the convoy attack but stressed that strikes against Yugoslav military targets would continue.

3.00pm: The US signals that the Nato air campaign could stretch into summer.

5.45pm: OSCE announces five members of KLA were killed and eight wounded in fighting along the border of Yugoslavia and Albania. earlier in the day.

THE FORMER Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet will face extradition proceedings to Spain, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, ruled yesterday.

The decision led to bitter recriminations from General Pinochet's supporters, including a virulent personal attack on Mr Straw by Baroness Thatcher, who accused him of putting his "political ambitions over his duties and so demeaning his office".

But the torture and rape victims of the general's secret police, and human rights activists in Britain and abroad, welcomed the ruling as another blow against regimes which oppress their peoples.

The issuing of a fresh "authority to proceed on extradition" is likely to mean that the General Pinochet, 83, will be sent to Spain on charges of torture and conspiracy to torture.

Two panels of law lords have now ruled that he does not have immunity from prosecution as a former head of state, and it is seen as highly unlikely that a magistrates' court will overturn those rulings. Rather than examining each charge indetail, the court will have to decide whether the crimes the general is accused of are extraditable under the European Convention on Extradition.

An extradition hearing at London's Bow Street magistrates' court was adjourned until 30 April. James Lewis, for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said that when the hearing reopens he will ask for a committal date to be set.

The Home Secretary, perhaps mindful that whatever decision he took would be controversial, took the unusual step of making public a list of 36 reasons why he had ruled in favour of an extradition hearing. His statement also stressed the decision "was taken personally by the Secretary of State".

In their ruling on 24 March, the law lords stated that General Pinochet could only be extradited on offences carried out after December 1988, when Britain ratified the UN Torture Convention, thereby slashing the 32 charges on the warrant sheet to just two. They also invited the Home Secretary to consider the granting of an authority to proceed afresh.

The Spanish investigative judge, Baltasar Garzon, acting on behalf of Spain, then sent the CPS 43 additional charges of torture subsequent to December 1988. Many of these, as well as the cases of thousands who "disappeared" under the military regime can be added to the list General Pinochet faces when charges are laid formally on 30 April.

Mr Straw received representations from lawyers acting for General Pinochet, the CPS, human rights bodies including Amnesty International, and the Chilean and Spanish governments. He also received "material" from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, which is known to have been concerned about arms deals with Chile being put on hold following the general's arrest.

The Home Secretary stated that the charges, although truncated by the law lords, were still extremely serious and warranted an extradition hearing. He rejected the assertion by the general's lawyers that he should not be charged because after December l988, torture was no longer widespread. He also rejected their plea that the general should be freed on the compassionate grounds of health and age. Requests by the Chilean government that he be sent back to Chile to face possible legal proceedings were also refused.

Supporters of the former dictator lined up to attack Mr Straw. Baroness Thatcher, who recently made a televised gesture of taking tea with General Pinochet, denounced the decision as " a vindictive political act". She said: "His consideration of the arguments seems to have been superficial and inadequate. This is not the decision of a fair-minded man."

Lord Lamont, the former chancellor, said: "Jack Straw knows that in the end, the courts will free General Pinochet, but only after tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent."

In Spain, Judge Garzon stated he was "cautiously satisfied" with Mr Straw's decision, but acknowledged that there was a long legal road ahead.

Amnesty International, which had appeared as intervenors in court requesting the general's extradition, said: "The victims of Pinochet are a huge step closer to justice."

Leading article; Steve Richards; Review, page 3