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Pinochet regime officials on trial

A French court has put 14 former Chilean officials on trial in absentia over the disappearance of French citizens under the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The 14, mostly former high-ranking military officials, face charges including kidnapping and torture and are the subject of international arrest warrants. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

While the defendants did not appear in court, families of the victims hope the trial offers some justice more than 30 years after the four French men disappeared and four years after Pinochet died following failed efforts in Chile and abroad to prosecute him for human rights abuses.

The 14 are being tried in connection with the disappearances of the four men between 1973 and 1975. Among the disappeared was Georges Klein, the doctor of Marxist President Salvador Allende, whom Pinochet toppled on September 11 1973, in a bloody coup.

The defendants, aged between 59 and 89, include former defence minister Herman Brady-Roche and Juan Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Pinochet's chief of secret police.

The country's secret police, known as Dina, have been accused of many of the political killings and other rights violations during the "dirty war" waged while Pinochet ruled from 1973-90. Contreras is serving a prison sentence in Chile for several rights violations cases.

All 14 defendants have refused to send lawyers to the trial. The Chilean Embassy in Paris said as the Chilean government is not a party to the trial, it did not send a representative.

Pinochet and four other former senior officials were also initially named as suspects in the case, but have died since the investigation began more than a decade ago.

Sophie Thonon, a lawyer representing the family of victim Jean-Yves Claudet, said it was a shame the 14 living defendants were not in court to "explain, or listen to the testimonies of the people they have tortured".

In the courtroom, case folders were piled high and family members clustered to listen to the proceedings, some holding black-and-white photos of the disappeared.

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