Pinochet-era chief convicted over killings

Juan Emilio Cheyre pictured in Santiago on 3 March 2004Image copyright
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Juan Emilio Cheyre was chief of the army between 2002 and 2006

A Chilean court has convicted the former army commander-in-chief of complicity in the deaths of 15 people following the 1973 military coup.

General Juan Emilio Cheyre was sentenced to three years and a day under house arrest.

He is the most senior figure to be held accountable so far for abuses carried out during the regime of General Augusto Pinochet.

The killings were carried out by the notorious “Caravan of Death”.

The Caravan of Death was a military unit sent by General Pinochet to remote Chilean areas to hunt down opposition activists.

Speaking outside the court on Friday, investigating judge Mario Carroza said the conviction of Cheyre – who was chief of the army between 2002 and 2006 – demonstrated the “egalitarian” justice system that Chile now enjoys.

The incident for which Cheyre was convicted took place in the northern city of La Serena a month after the coup in September 1973.

He was a young officer in a regiment stationed at La Serena when the Caravan of Death arrived in the city and killed 15 left-wing activists.

The same court on Friday sentenced his then superior officer, Ariosto Lapostol, to 15 years in prison for the killings.

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Many relatives of those who disappeared under the Pinochet regime are still awaiting answers

The Caravan of Death landed by helicopter in 16 towns and cities and killed 97 people between 30 September and 22 October 1973, according to figures compiled by the NGO Memory and Justice.

Gen Pinochet said there would be no mercy for “extremists”, and was reportedly annoyed by news that some commanders in provincial towns had been “soft” on political opponents.

General Pinochet had seized power from the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.

He stepped down in 1990 but retained the post of commander-in-chief of the army for another eight years.

An estimated 3,200 people were murdered and 28,000 tortured by agents of the state during his dictatorship. More than 1,000 people are still listed as missing.

General Pinochet died in 2006, aged 91, without ever standing trial.

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