Pinochet regime dumped bodies at sea, says colonel

A retired Chilean Air Force colonel has disclosed how security forces disposed of the bodies of some 780 dissidents murdered under the regime of General Augusto Pinochet by ditching them in the ocean.

A retired Chilean Air Force colonel has disclosed how security forces disposed of the bodies of some 780 dissidents murdered under the regime of General Augusto Pinochet by ditching them in the ocean.

The colonel's anonymous revelations, written in a four-page letter to a Methodist pastor, Enrique Viches Millar, are the first concrete results of a new government policy that encourages the military to come forward with any evidence about thousands of leftists who "disappeared" under the regime by not requiring them to identify or implicate themselves.

To ensure no bodies would wash ashore, the letter said, the Chilean armed forces would rent merchant vessels and carry shiploads of dead prisoners to the high seas. Thebodies were injected with chemicals to speed up decomposition, and tied to iron rods so they "would sink as deep as possible". The letter did not gives details of the dates or manner of the political executions.

More than 60 per cent of those murdered by the Pinochet regime were dumped at sea, particularly during the early months after the 1973 coup, so the victims' families have had no chance to confirm that their relatives are dead.

Human rights activists, awaiting an official announcement about whether the former dictator will face 157 charges of kidnap, torture and murder, want to cite this letter as evidence against him. But they are concerned that the Army Commander, Ricardo Izurieta, and the Air Force Commander, Patricio Rios, have threatened to end military co-operation in locating the regime's victims if they deem a political vendetta is being waged against their former Commander in Chief. The Interior Minister, Jose Miguel Insulza, has criticised the two generals for meddling.

A brief government statement acknowledged that the letter was authentic, but said it was of little practical use in locating any of the estimated 1,000 dissidents still missing, or additional remains of the 3,097 recognised victims of state-sponsored murder. The statement said: "The information he made available does not include background ... to reach some conclusion on the actual whereabouts of the victims."

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