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Chile’s ex-army commander detained in 1973 killing case

July 7, 2016 GMT
FILE - This Nov. 28, 2005 file photo, shows Chile's outgoing Army Chief Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre at La Moneda government palace, in Santiago, Chile. The former army chief has been detained on Thursday, July 7, 2016, accused as an accomplice in the murder of 15 political activists in 1973 during the military dictatorship. (AP Photo/Santiago Llanquin, File)
FILE - This Nov. 28, 2005 file photo, shows Chile's outgoing Army Chief Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre at La Moneda government palace, in Santiago, Chile. The former army chief has been detained on Thursday, July 7, 2016, accused as an accomplice in the murder of 15 political activists in 1973 during the military dictatorship. (AP Photo/Santiago Llanquin, File)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A former commander in chief of the Chilean army was arrested Thursday and charged with complicity in the killing of 15 left-wing militants at the start of the country’s military dictatorship in 1973.

Retired Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre was taken into custody on orders from Judge Mario Carroza, one of several judges who investigate human rights crimes in Chile.

Cheyre, the army’s commander in 2002-2006, has repeatedly denied the charges leveled against him, including claims last month from two former political prisoners that he had tortured them.

But Cheyre has acknowledged that human rights abuses occurred during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Cristian Cruz, a lawyer who represents the families of the 15 slain activists, praised the arrest.

“My clients are deeply excited,” he said. “We continue to believe in justice. It is difficult to understand all that they, and those they were close to, have gone through, so we are very pleased for what has happened here in the light of hope.”

The case is one of several linked to what Chileans call the “Caravan of Death” — a group of military officers that moved around the country holding summary trials of dissidents under orders from Pinochet. Judicial investigations conducted after the return of democracy have said the group left behind a trail of dead and “disappeared.”

The inquiries established that many prisoners held by the military were taken into the desert where they were stabbed or shot to death and their bodies blown up with dynamite.

At least 3,095 people were killed during Pinochet’s dictatorship, according to government figures, and tens of thousands more were tortured or jailed for political reasons. Pinochet died in 2006 under house arrest without being tried on charges of illegal enrichment and human rights violations.