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Court Grants Pinochet Freedom on Bail After Indictment

Former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was indicted on human rights charges Thursday and placed under house arrest, hours after he made bail on unrelated corruption charges filed only a day earlier.

In a widely expected decision, Judge Victor Montiglio charged Pinochet in connection with the kidnapping and disappearance of six dissidents in the early years of his 1973-90 dictatorship, his office said.

Montiglio sent a court secretary to Pinochet's Santiago mansion to inform the general of the charges, which will force him to spend his 90th birthday Friday under arrest. The judge did not grant Pinochet bail.

There was no immediate comment from Pinochet's lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez.

The new indictment involves the disappearance of six dissidents arrested by Pinochet's security services in late 1974. They were among 119 people, some of whose bodies were later found in Argentina, who disappeared in a case known as Operation Colombo.

The Pinochet government claimed at the time that the dissidents were killed in clashes involving rival armed groups opposed to him.

Friends and relatives had planned a luncheon at Pinochet's house to celebrate his birthday but were canceling the event. "I doubt the boss will be in a mood to attend," Pinochet's spokesman, retired Gen. Guillermo Garin, told The Associated Press.

Pinochet was indicted and put under house arrest on Wednesday by another judge, Carlos Cerda, on charges of tax evasion and corruption. Early Thursday, the Santiago Court of Appeals granted Pinochet freedom on an $11,500 bond.

A government lawyer had asked the court to increase the bail substantially, saying Pinochet was not a poor man and continued to have access to some funds. But defense lawyers said the retired general has no money because his accounts have been frozen.

The judge who preceded Cerda in the case, Sergio Munoz, estimated Pinochet's overseas fortune at $23 million.

The overseas accounts were first reported in a U.S. Senate investigation of Riggs Bank in Washington, where Pinochet kept $8 million. Other accounts have since been discovered in Britain and other countries. Pinochet's lawyers say the money consists of legitimate donations, savings and investments proceeds.

Pinochet had previously been placed under house arrest twice on human rights charges, but courts blocked both trials because of his poor health.

Rodriguez has said he would appeal the corruption indictment. He insists that Pinochet, who suffers from mild dementia, arthritis and diabetes, remains too ill to be tried. But a team of doctors who recently examined Pinochet said he is fit to stand trial.

According to the civilian government that succeeded Pinochet in 1990, 3,190 people were killed for political reasons during his regime. More than 1,000 others remain unaccounted for after being arrested and tens of thousands fled their homeland.