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Pinochet Wins A Courtroom Victory

Britain's High Court on Monday rejected a request by Belgium and six human rights groups to challenge a decision denying them the right to review the medical report that could free for former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Belgium immediately said it would appeal the decision, which, if left unchallenged, would have been passed to Home Secretary Jack Straw for a final decision on Pinochet's extradition.

Straw announced earlier this month that he is inclined to let Pinochet return home, saying an independent medical team found the former dictator mentally unfit to stand trial on charges of human rights abuses.

Belgium and the human rights groups want to review the medical report before Straw's final ruling, but Straw has refused, citing Pinochet's right to patient confidentiality.

Pinochet was arrested during a visit to Britain in October 1998 while recuperating from back surgery in a London hospital. He has spent the past 15 months fighting extradition to Spain.

His extradition also is being sought by Belgium, France and Switzerland all on behalf of citizens of their countries who contend their relatives were jailed or killed in Chile. However, only Belgium was involved in the legal challenge to see Pinochet's medical records.

Belgium and the human rights groups contended Straw is acting unfairly and against "natural justice" by refusing to share the report with them.

Belgium said it is entitled to view the report as a nation seeking Pinochet's extradition, and the human rights groups sought to see it as advocates for some of the general's alleged victims.

The plaintiffs had the option of a last-ditch appeal to a three-judge High Court panel, but lawyers for Belgium and the human rights groups said last week that was unlikely.

Straw has promised to give the interested parties 24 hours' notice before announcing his final decision, which also could be subject to an appeal.

On Sunday, Britain's Defense Ministry confirmed that a Chilean air force place sent to fetch Pinochet has landed at a military base northwest of London. The Boeing 707 is parked at Brize Norton, 20 miles outside London.

Pinochet, who has diabetes and suffered from two small strokes last fall, remains under police guard at a rented mansion west of London.

An official Chilean government report says 3,197 people died or disappeared at the hands of his secret police during his 1973-90 dictatorship.

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