Foreign minister tells Britain Pinochet might be tried in Chile Two British newspapers say compromise is near on the former dictator

November 30, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON -- Pressing an effort to persuade Britain to free Gen. Augusto Pinochet and let him fly home, the foreign minister of Chile said here yesterday that his government would pursue its own judgment of the former dictator.

Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza said that the popular view that the 83-year-old general had unlimited immunity in his own country was wrong and that there were 14 cases against him initiated by alleged victims of his dictatorship that are in the hands of prosecutors in Santiago.

The cases have been brought since March, when the general stepped down as commander in chief of the armed forces. The people who have sought prosecution believe that the Chilean judge handling the cases has been doing a "thorough job," Insulza said.

"I think the government is going to do even more to make sure that the investigation goes forward, but of course you can never say, 'We assure you he is going to jail,' " he said.

In contrast to "symbolic" justice in Britain or Spain, Insulza contended, "the only real chance to have some kind of justice and some kind of truth is in Chile, where the events happened."

Insulza made the comments to the television interviewer David Frost yesterday in one of a series of appearances and news conferences the Chilean official has held since arriving on Friday to plead the diplomatic case for Pinochet's return to Chile.

A Socialist, Insulza spent years in exile during the Pinochet years and does not plan to visit the former dictator in London.

Pinochet is being held for a hearing on Dec. 11 on a Spanish petition for his extradition to Madrid to face charges of genocide, terrorism and torture in the killings and "disappearances" of 3,178 people.

While hinting at possible court action against the general at home, Insulza said he was not offering Britain a "deal" for his freedom.

"I would not say we are making any deals or going into negotiations," he said. "What we have tried to present is our position on this matter."

Pinochet has remained out of the public eye since his arrest Oct. 16 and is expected to move today from a North London hospital where he has been recuperating from spinal surgery to a mansion rented by friends in a fashionable community in the Surrey countryside.

His lawyers spent the weekend preparing written arguments for Jack Straw, the British home secretary, due by the close of business today. Straw must decide whether to let the extradition matter go forward or allow Pinochet to leave England.

The British government has insisted that the decision is a matter for the courts and that Straw, acting in a "quasi-judicial" capacity, does not intend to consult Prime Minister Tony Blair or his Cabinet colleagues.

A spokesman for Straw, who has until Dec. 11 to decide whether to block proceedings to extradite Pinochet to Spain, insisted that the secretary's decision would be based on the law, not politics.

"We are not negotiating a deal," said the spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The Home Secretary will consider what decision he will take in his role as quasi-judicial arbiter under the terms of the Extradition Act."

However, two British newspapers, the Sunday Times and the Observer, reported yesterday that Britain and Chile were close to a compromise.

Four legal grounds exist on which Straw may stop the extradition process at this stage: for compassion; if the crimes are not extraditable; if the document is faulty; or if the charges are considered political.

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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