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Healthy Pinochet questioned by Chilean court on crimes against humanity

The South American former dictator said he had no knowledge of the deaths of 19 opponents under the “Operation Condor” case.

Shortly after country's Supreme Court stripped from his immunity as “former head of state”, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, 88, was questioned by an investigative judge for half an hour on Saturday over the assassination of 19 opponents. Courts have to decide now whether Pinochet could be indicted in one of hundreds of unpunished human rights cases stemming from his bloody rule between 1973 and 1990.

According to reports from Santiago, Chile’s capital, Pinochet said he had no knowledge of the assassinations which, according to prosecutors, are connected to “Operation Condor”, an intelligence network operated by South American dictatorships to crackdown opponents in the seventies, well coordinated from Henry Kissinger's US State Department. Despite all evidence on the contrary, Pinochet was quoted as saying that the operation had been handled by mid-level officers in the military chain of command.

"General Pinochet's declaration lasted 20 to 30 minutes. He seemed quite tired, and congested. There were about six questions and he answered them directly," Judge Juan Guzman, who the defense has accused of bias against Pinochet, told a local television station. However, it became clear that Pinochet is fit to respond to judicial questionings, as Guzman said he was “satisfied” with Pinochet's declarations.

During the last years, the former dictator has avoided appearing before tribunals, alleging insanity, but last year he gave press interviews in which he looked lucid to answer to reporters. Pinochet also gave testimony last month in a notorious case of corruption that also involves the US based Riggs Bank.

Guzman seeks to determine the level of Pinochet's responsibility in the killings and disappearances of 19 Chilean leftists who were kidnapped and killed in 1975 and 1976 in other South American countries under Operation Condor. However, in Chile, a handful of people believe Pinochet will finally be punished for his crimes.

Conservative estimations say that up to 5.000 people were killed after Pinochet led the military coup that toppled socialist president Salvador Allende. He left office in 1990 when Chile returned to democracy. For years he seemed untouchable and continued as head of Chile's military, but his surprise 1998 arrest in London on international charges of crimes against humanity made by a Spanish judge unleashed a torrent of legal cases against him in Chile.