A military judge in Chile ordered the detention of eight members of the national police force today accusing them of being responsible for the deaths of 15 persons whose bodies were found in an abandoned mine shaft last November.
It was the ruling military government's first official recognition that at least some of the hundreds of Chileanas who disappeared after Chile's 1973 coup were killed by on-duty military or police.
Until now, the government has denied responsibility while its opponents have charged repeatedly that the government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet killed thousands of leftists and others between 1973 and 1977.
Although the decision to hold police Capt. Lautero Castro and seven men under his command seems to contradict the government's position that forces under its command had no responsibility for killing any of those who disappeared, the eight apparently will not face punishment for the killings at Lonquen, Chile, in October 1973.
Last year, Pinochet decreed an amnesty for those who might have committed crimes following the coup. The only specific exception to the general amnesty were any criminal acts committed by Chileans in connection with the 1976 assassination in Washington of Orlando Letelier.
The decision to hold the eight officers was made in Santiage, news services reported, by military judge Gonzalo Salazar, who charged the policemen with "a crime of unnecessary violence" that caused the deaths of the 15 peasants almost six years ago.
The victims, whose names were on a Catholic church list of almost 650 persons who have disappeared were found late last year after a security officer confessed the location of the bodies to a priest.
A civilian court in Santiago ordered an investigation once the bodies were found. A report on the initial investigation was submitted to Salazar about two months ago by Adolf Banados Cuadra, a lawyer who was asked by the civilian court to determine who was responsible for the 15 deaths.
The Banados report was to have appeared last week in Hoy magazine, Chile's chief opposition publication, which was closed down for two months by the government shortly before publication. The report served as the basis for today's decision to charge and detain the eight.
Banados' major conclusions were that the 15 had been "arrested or kidnaped" by the national police and were last seen alive in their custody. Banados also found that the officers' explanatiob, that the 15 were shot to death by unknown gunmen, was false because none of the corpses had signs of bullet wounds.
Banados stopped short of directly accusing the eight of the crime. Judge Salazar apparently determined through additional probing that there was sufficient evidence to charge and detain them.
In Chile, as in France, charges are not brought unless a judge finds the evidence against a suspect to be overwhelming.
The question of the many perdons believed to have been arrested or abducted but never officially charged with a crime has been a burning issue in Chile, as well as in Argentina, since the military coups in both of those countries.
Human rights groups in Argentina, where headless bodies have washed up on beaches, estimate that as many as 15,000 person have been abducted.