Latin America & Caribbean

Chile 'Caravan of Death' general commits suicide

Officer stands guard outside the house Odlanier Mena killed himself
Image caption The former general committed suicide at home while on release from prison

A former Chilean general and director of intelligence during Augusto Pinochet's rule has killed himself while on weekend release from prison.

Odlanier Mena, who was 87 years old, was serving a six-year jail term.

The crimes were allegedly part of the "Caravan of Death" - a military operation thought to have killed more than 100 opponents of the 1973 coup.

On Thursday, President Sebastian Pinera announced plans to close the jail where Mena was being held.

A lawyer representing Mena said his client had been worried about having to be moved from Cordillera to another military facility at Punta Peuco.

Mena is said to have shot himself in the head at home on Saturday. He had been due to return to prison the following day.

At Cordillera, prisoners have access to the internet, cable TV, a tennis court, gardens and a barbecue area.

"He had been terribly upset by the move. It affected him a lot that in Punta Peuco he would not have the medical attention he needed," Jorge Balmaceda told 24 Horas TV.

The comfortable conditions at the prison have been sharply criticised by many in Chile, including former Presidents Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet.

Image caption Mena's lawyer said his client was upset about being transferred From Cordillera

Critics say military prisoners should not be given different treatment to others serving prison terms.

President Pinera's decision to move the prisoners of Cordillera to Punta Peuco also follows a controversial interview by one of its 10 inmates, the notorious former head of Pinochet's intelligence agency, Manuel Contreras, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the 1973 coup.

Contreras told reporters there was no torture at the Villa Grimaldi, one of the secret police's main complexes, and that all of the dead during the Pinochet dictatorship were killed in armed confrontations with security forces.

More than 3,000 people died or disappeared in Chile between 1973 and 1990 and nearly 30,000 are believed to have been tortured.

More on this story