Chile bid to avoid Pinochet trial

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The Independent Online
SPAIN IS considering a request by Chile that the case of Augusto Pinochet should be settled by arbitration in the hope of avoiding a damaging show trial.

If agreement is reached to drop extradition proceedings, General Pinochet, who has been held in Britain for 10 months, would be free to return home to Chile.

Spanish foreign ministry spokesman Joaquin Perez Villanueva confirmed that discussions had taken place. But he said the basic position of the Spanish government towards the case had not changed. "What we are prepared to do is consider all the reasons that our Chilean friends may have to defend their arguments, given the importance we give... to bilateral relations with Chile," he said.

Chile has pressed Britain to send General Pinochet home since he was charged with human rights abuses during his 17 years in power by a Spanish judge and arrested in London in October. A British court is due to begin extradition hearings in September. Chile now hopes to persuade Spain to accept an alternative.

The Spanish government insists the issue is in the hands of the courts and it is following the letter of the law. But it is believed to fear a worsening in already tense relations with Chile should General Pinochet go on trial in a Spanish court.