Latin America & Caribbean

Chile sentences 33 over Pinochet-era disappearances

Activists of Chilean Human Rights organization 'Detained and Disappeared People' participate in a ceremony at Villa Grimaldi, which was used as a detention and torture centre during the dictatorship (1973-1990) of Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, on September 10, 2013. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chileans remember the more than 1,200 people who were forcibly disappeared

The High Court in Chile has sentenced 33 former intelligence agents for the disappearance of five political activists in 1987.

The court said that the five had been abducted and killed, and their bodies thrown into the sea.

Investigators said they were killed in revenge for the abduction of an army colonel by left-wing guerrillas.

The five are believed to have been the last people kidnapped under the rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990.

Those sentenced are former members of the CNI intelligence service, the army's intelligence battalion and the army's flight commando.

Among them are former CNI head Gen Hugo Salas Wenzel and the CNI's ex-chief of operations, Maj Alvaro Corbalan Castilla.

The two, who are already serving sentences for human rights abuses, were given 15 years in prison each.

Thrown from a helicopter

The remaining defendants were sentenced to jail terms ranging between five and 10 years, with one released subject to conditions.

The five disappeared activists were members of the Communist Party and its militant wing, the Manuel Rodriguez Patriot Front, which used guerrilla tactics to fight the rule of Gen Pinochet.

They were arrested in September 1987 by the secret police in retaliation for the abduction of Col Carlos Carreño by the Manuel Rodriguez Patriot Front.

Col Carreño was kidnapped on 1 September 1987 and released three months later after his family agreed to the kidnappers' demand for $50,000 (£40,000) in food and clothing for Chile's poor.

The bodies of the five were never found but Judge Mario Carroza's investigations revealed that they had been thrown into the sea from a helicopter off the coast of Valparaiso.

It is not clear whether they were still alive but drugged at the time or if they had already been killed in detention.

More than 3,200 people were killed or disappeared during Gen Pinochet's rule, according to official figures.

Gen Pinochet came to power in a military coup in 1973, when he overthrew the socialist government of President Salvador Allende.

Outside Chile, he is remembered as a ruthless dictator whose military regime tortured and killed thousands of opponents and drove many into exile.

But inside Chile he still has a small but ardent group of right-wing supporters who regard him as a hero for "saving the country from becoming another Cuba".

He stepped down from power in 1990, two years after he lost a referendum on whether he should remain in power.

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