Former Pinochet officials on trial

A French court put 14 former Chilean officials on trial in absentia yesterday over the disappearance of French citizens under the regime of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The 14, mostly former high-ranking military officials, face charges including kidnapping and torture and are the subject of international arrest warrants. They face up to life in prison, if convicted.

While the defendants did not appear in court, families of the victims hope the trial offers some justice more than 30 years after the four Frenchmen disappeared – and four years after Pinochet himself died following failed efforts in Chile and abroad to prosecute him for human rights abuses.

The four men disappeared between 1973 and 1975. Among them was Georges Klein, the doctor of President Salvador Allende, whom Pinochet toppled on 11 September 1973 in a bloody coup.

The defendants, aged between 59 and 89, include the former defence minister Herman Brady-Roche and Juan Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Pinochet's chief of secret police. The country's secret police, known as Dina, have been accused of many of the political killings and other rights violations during the "dirty war" waged while Pinochet ruled from 1973-90. Contreras is serving time in Chile for several rights violations cases.