Pinochet fit to stand trial on human rights charges, officials say

Court-appointed experts have determined that former dictator Augusto Pinochet is fit to stand trial in a human rights case, a lawyer said Wednesday, though earlier attempts to prosecute him had been blocked on health grounds. Hernan Quezada, a prosecution lawyer who received the report, said the doctors believe "Pinochet simulated, trying to make the symptoms of his condition appear worse than they really are."

He said that the doctors reported that Pinochet suffers from loss of memory, but not enough to be considered a mental disorder, the AP reports.

Psychiatrists, neurologists and psychologists examined Pinochet for several hours in three separate sessions in late October, a step ordered by the Supreme Court before a judge can decide whether to try Pinochet in a case known as Operation Colombo.

The doctors agreed with three-year-old diagnosis for Pinochet of a mild dementia, a condition that led courts to block efforts to try him on earlier indictments.

The new report, however, said the condition does not make Pinochet unfit to stand trial. Pinochet also suffers from diabetes and arthritis and has a pacemaker.

Judge Victor Montiglio is now free to indict Pinochet in the case. The Supreme Court had already stripped the former dictator of the immunity from prosecution he enjoys as former president.

Relatives of victims seek to have Pinochet charged in the disappearance and killing of 15 dissidents in the early years of his 1973-90 government.

In all, 119 dissidents were killed in Operation Colombo, and their bodies were found in neighboring Argentina. The relatives for only 15 of the victims first sued Pinochet, but since then relatives of 30 others have also filed suit.

Also Wednesday, the state television described what it said was judge Montiglio's questioning of Pinochet, in which the former dictator was asked whether he lamented the deaths occurred during his long regime.

The case is just part if the legal problems for Pinochet, who will turn 90 on Nov. 25. He has also lost his immunity and may be tried on tax evasion and corruption charges stemming from the multimillion-dollar bank accounts he owns abroad. A.M.