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RIGHTS-CHILE: Search for Hidden Graves in Colonia Dignidad

By Alicia Sanchez

SANTIAGO, Jan 25 (IPS) - Chilean judge Juan Guzman, the man handling human rights charges against General Augusto Pinochet, authorised a search of 'Colonia Dignidad' for hidden graves of people who disappeared under the 1973-1990 dictatorship.

'Colonia Dignidad,' also known as Villa Baviera, was a former German enclave used as a detention and torture centre for government opponents during Pinochet's dictatorship.

The 15,000 hectare site is now home to some 200 German nationals who are little aware of anything that goes on outside the grounds.

This enclave was founded in 1961 as a charity and educational society, but in recent years complaints were received over the internal regime of the community, and its leader, Paul Schafer, is currently a fugitive from justice after being accused of sexually abusing children and young people within the settlement.

In 1977, Amnesty International described the colony as a torture and detention centre of the Pinochet regime - the former dictator has been in detention in London since October 1998 on Spanish request, after this nation called for his extradition to face charges of crimes against humanity.

Pinochet's destiny depends to a large extent on Britain's Chamber of Lords Appeals Committee, which must rule on his claim for immunity as former head of State. If this immunity is denied the extradition process will go ahead.

Meanwhile, Judge Guzman - investigating charges against Pinochet in Chile - Saturday ordered a search of the former Colonia Dignidad, where the Pinochet's National Intelligence Department (DINA) allegedly held 38 of the detained-disappeared according to their relatives.

The DINA, which used the grounds of Colonia Dignidad as a detention centre, was run by retired general Manuel Contreras - the man sentenced to seven years in prison in 1995 for the murder in Washington of Orlando Letelier, former foreign minister of the coup-toppled Salvador Allende administration.

On one occasion, Conteras said he had received direct orders from Pinochet.

''It is proven there were various links between the DINA and Colonia Dignidad,'' stated the conclusions drawn up by the National Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, a body created under the government of Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994) to investigate human rights violations and search for the disappeared.

The Commission said it had received ''many declarations from people who were arrested by the DINA in Santiago and who say they were at some point taken to Colonia Dignidad as prisoners, being kept blindfolded and undergoing torture there.''

Also, added the report, reports were made of people being detained in the area around the enclave, and of others who disappeared there.

Witnesses who claim they were tortured in the former colony will accompany Judge Guzman on his inspection - an in depth undertaking which will include excavations, with backup from the Legal Medical Service and Forensic laboratories, along with the use of georadar to detect hidden graves.

Other aspects of the plan also include the location of Schafer - a fugitive from justice since November 1997, when around 200 police officers raided the former colony with an arrest warrant issued for charges of child sex abuse.

This same month, the ban was lifted on Amnesty International citing the location as a detention and torture centre.

The search for the hidden graves will continue throughout the week. (END/IPS/tra-so/as/ff/sm/99)