Activists applaud Pinochet decision
by Leigh Arnold While the Spanish and Chilean Foreign Ministers negotiate a deal to halt proceedings to extradite former dictator General Augusto Pinochet from Britain to stand trial in Spain on charges of torture and terrorism, Chilean democrats have applauded a decision by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to allow Pinochet to be prosecuted in Britain. "The obligation is to extradite or prosecute", a CPS official told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. "If Spain withdraws its extradition request, the Home Secretary will be obliged to refer the case to Scotland Yard for investigation." The British-based Chile Committee for Justice said that it would be "fitting and right" if the prosecution "were to take place in Britain. "Pinochet was responsible for the murder, disappearance and torture of countless thousands of Chileans", said a committee spokeswoman. "But it should also be remembered that British citizens were among his victims." A spokeswoman for the Committee Against Impunity, which is also based in Britain, said that it too was "very, very happy" with the CPS announcement. Under the UN Torture Convention, General Pinochet could face charges for alleged crimes committed abroad. Both groups strongly criticised the Spanish Government over its efforts to wriggle out of putting General Pinochet on trial. They accused the Spanish Government of attempting to "undermine Spain's hard-won judicial independence" and demanded that the judicial process be carried through in Spain. "If we leave this to political negotiations, General Pinochet will go free", said the Committee Against Impunity. In Spain, the High Court judge who originally ordered Pinochet's detention has protested against the Spanish-Chilean negotiations and demanded that such "interference" in the independence of the Spanish judiciary cease. The Spanish opposition has also condemned the move. The British CPS decision came after Amnesty International lodged a formal complaint against the general with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon. "As with any investigation, the police would have to look into the complaint and present us with a file", said a CPS spokeswoman. She said that the service was still focused on extradition, but confirmed that a British police investigation was "an option" if Spain abandoned its action. Recent reports have emerged that Chilean Foreign Minister Juan Gabriel Valdes is close to agreeing a deal with Spain to drop the charges. General Pinochet has been held in Britain since last October, following Spain's extradition request over accusations of human rights abuses during his 1973-90 rule. He is due to face an extradition hearing at the end of next month.
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