Chilean Court Strips Pinochet of Immunity

Gen. Augusto Pinochet was stripped of his legal immunity by an appeals court on Wednesday, allowing his trial in the disappearance of 29 additional dissidents during his 1973-90 dictatorship.

The 16-6 vote by the Santiago Court of Appeals allows the judge handling the case, Victor Montiglio, to add the 29 new cases to nine for which the 90-year-old former ruler had been indicted and put under house arrest two weeks earlier.

Pinochet's lawyer, Gustavo Collados, immediately announced he will appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court.

The missing dissidents are among 119 who were killed in the early years of Pinochet's rule in a case known as Operation Colombo.

The case has dragged for months in the courts as relatives of the victims have filed individual criminal suites, forcing separate rulings by the courts.

Laws also require that Pinochet be stripped of the legal immunity he enjoys as former president for each case filed against him.

Six of the nine previous indictments are on appeal before the Supreme Court.

Pinochet is also under indictment on tax evasion and corruption charges related to foreign bank accounts, which that the judge investigating that case has estimated at $28 million.

Pinochet's chief defense lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, has said he will insist that retired general cannot be tried because of failing health, an argument has been accepted by the courts four times earlier, blocking attempts to try Pinochet on human rights charges.

According to an official report, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during the dictatorship.

This time, however, a team of court-appointed doctors who examined Pinochet indicated that while he has several health problems, he is still fit to stand trial.

The doctor said that Pinochet tried to make his condition appear worse than it really is.

Pinochet suffers from mild dementia, diabetes, arthritis and has pacemaker.