SANTIAGO, Chile – A Chilean court stripped Gen. Augusto Pinochet (search) of immunity from prosecution Wednesday for his alleged role in the killing of 119 dissidents in the early years of his dictatorship.
The Santiago Court of Appeals voted 11-10 to strip the 89-year-old former dictator of the legal immunity he enjoys as former president for a case known as "Operation Colombo" during his 1973-90 regime.
The ruling can be appealed before the Supreme Court. Pinochet's lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, did not immediately announce his plans.
The case, which involved the killing of 119 people in 1975, was complicated and the Pinochet regime contends the victims died in clashes in Argentina involving rival armed groups opposed to his rule. The opposition says they were dissidents.
To support its claim, the regime cited an Argentine magazine called Lea, which published details of the alleged clashes and the names of the victims. The magazine, however, never really existed — it was a one-time publication with the case of the Chilean victims.
Pinochet also faces court battles in a number of other lawsuits arising from human rights abuses during his long reign, and has been four times stripped of his immunity and the courts have twice blocked his trial on health grounds.
Two cases are still pending, including Operation Colombo (search). The Chilean law requires people who enjoy of immunity to have it lifted separately in each suite they may face.
A report prepared by an independent commission for the civilian government that succeeded Pinochet said 3,197 people died or disappeared during his 17-year regime.
Last month, the same court also stripped him of his immunity in a tax evasion case stemming from multimillion-dollar bank accounts he held in the United States, as disclosed by a U.S. Senate investigative committee.
A judge has accused him of failing to pay $9.2 million in taxes on the accounts containing up to $17 million.
The courts here have cited Pinochet's health twice in blocking his trial on charges of human rights abuses. On Wednesday, lawyer Rodriguez insisted Pinochet cannot stand trial because of his health problems, as "he cannot answer questions, he cannot build his defense."
According to his doctors, he has suffered several mild strokes, the latest last month, and has been diagnosed a mild case of dementia. He also suffers from diabetes, arthritis and has a pacemaker. But his opponents claim he exaggerates his health problems to escape trial.