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Chile offers leniency rights abusers

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13 Aug 2003 02:13:31 GMT
Chile offers leniency to some rights abusers


By Fiona Ortiz

SANTIAGO, Chile, Aug 12 (Reuters) - In a bid to heal decades-old wounds from Chile's military dictatorship, President Ricardo Lagos unveiled on Tuesday a human rights plan offering leniency to soldiers who break their silence about tortures and disappearances.

Lagos, who wants to push Chile's deeply divided society toward reconciliation 30 years after a military coup, also increased special pensions for families of the estimated 3,000 people killed during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule.

The plan also assigns more special judges to human rights cases to speed them up in court.

"Many people who have information are still sunk in a cruel and persistent silence," Lagos, a socialist who has pushed a free trade agenda, said in a nationally televised speech.

To break the code of silence, he said, courts would offer reduced or commuted sentences to those who were only following orders under threats, but not to those who organized and ordered abuses.

At least 160 former members of the military are on trial on allegations of human rights crimes and a handful of officers have been convicted.

Lorena Pizarro, president of the Group of Relatives of the Disappeared, said she was disappointed because the president did not overturn a limited 1978 amnesty for the military.

"There's no sharing of responsibilities here. We are the families of the victims and they are the criminals," Pizarro said.

Pensions for children and widows of the disappeared and executed, roughly $285 a month now, will be increased by 50 percent. Lagos also said he would form a special commission to look into one-time symbolic compensations for torture victims.

The president said the plan was not a definitive solution but another step toward uniting Chile's fractured soul. Many Chileans revile the dictatorship, but Pinochet also gets credit for saving the country from Marxism when he ousted leftist President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973.

Allende took his own life during the coup. Pinochet, 87, his mental health fragile, has retired from public life.

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