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Chile arrests former Pinochet aide over alleged human rights abuses

October 20, 2014

A former mayor and retired military official has been arrested in connection with human rights abuses committed under Pinochet's dictatorship. Cristian Labbe has denied any involvement in the crimes.

Chile Santiago skyline
Image: Imago

A retired military official who served under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested on Monday in connection with human rights abuses.

Cristian Labbe, who served as mayor of an upscale Santiago neighborhood from 1996 to 2012, was arrested with nine other former officials for the kidnapping and murder of 13 people after a 1973 military coup that brought Pinochet to power and kept him there until 1990.

He was questioned by a judge, who said there was evidence Labbe had been part of a "hierarchical organization" that became the country's feared secret police National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA by its Spanish initials.

The crimes were allegedly committed at the Tejas Verdes military base 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santiago. The DINA-run camp was used as a torture and detention center, where prisoners were said to have undergone torture methods such as mock shootings, beatings, electric shocks and the removal of fingernails.

Alvaro Elizalde, a government spokesman, told reporters on Monday that the investigation into human rights abuses was ongoing.

"We hope this can be cleared up and it's the courts that have to determine any responsibilities [in the case]," he said.

A source not authorized to speak on the matter told Reuters news agency that Judge Marianela Cifuentes was prosecuting the 10 former military members.

"Cifuentes determined that the DINA had become an unlawful organization for committing crimes against humanity, and as such has prosecuted Labbe as a member of that unlawful organization."

Though the military coup which brought in the military dictatorship happened over four decades ago, there has been a recent push to bring those accused of human rights violations to justice.

Last month, Reuters reported that the Chilean government had sought to overturn a law that protects military personnel who served during the military regime from legal prosecution.

An estimated 3,000 people were kidnapped and killed or disappeared during the 17-year dictatorship, and another 28,000 people were tortured. Augusto Pinochet died at the age of 91 in 2006, never having faced a full trial for the crimes committed during his rule.

sb/slk (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)