German cult leader to face Chilean court

14th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

14 March 2005, BUENOS AIRES - The German cult figure who headed a controversial fundamentalist commune in Chile arrived back in Santiago on Sunday, where he will face multiple charges ranging from child abuse to abetting prisoner maltreatment under the regime of former dictator Augusto Pinochet

14 March 2005

BUENOS AIRES - The German cult figure who headed a controversial fundamentalist commune in Chile arrived back in Santiago on Sunday, where he will face multiple charges ranging from child abuse to abetting prisoner maltreatment under the regime of former dictator Augusto Pinochet

Paul Schaefer, an 83-year-old invalid who founded the "Colonia Dignidad" commune in 1961, arrived aboard a Chilean government jet from Argentina. He had been a fugitive for nearly eight years before his arrest outside Buenos Aires last Thursday.

Schaefer was taken to a police medical facility upon his arrival, and was to be arraigned before Judge Joaquin Billard.

Chile had pushed for an immediate handover of Schaefer, who apparently entered Argentina illegally. An Argentinian judge ordered his expulsion shortly after Chile cleared the way for quick legal action by withdrawing an international arrest warrant for Schaefer.

Schaefer's prompt return came after Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner, who was to begin what generally has been perceived as a difficult state visit to Chile, said the German must quickly be brought to justice.

Kirchner's stance is likely to improve the climate for his visit, which is expected to focus on Chilean demands for increased natural gas exports from Argentina.

Situated in rural southern Chile, Colonia Dignidad is an isolated compound still populated with German expatriates.

Under Schaefer's control, the commune was surrounded by barbed wire and guards, although it reached out to the community by operating a free school and clinic.

Persons who fled the commune over its 44-year existence have alleged members were generally treated like slaves under a regime that emphasized discipline and cleanliness. Residents allegedly were forced to perform physical labour for no pay and prevented from leaving the facility. Families were split up, with males housed separately from females.

Although sexual abstinence was preached, Schaefer was accused of forcing himself on commune children. Last year, Schaefer was found guilty in absentia by a Chilean court of abusing 26 Chilean and German children.

Germany also has sought Schaefer on child abuse charges. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the arrest of Schaefer was "good news" when he was told on Friday, however it was not immediately clear whether Germany would seek his extradition.

During the Pinochet years (1973-1990), Colonia Dignidad allegedly was part of the dictator's terror network, offering Chilean secret police and the military a place to torture and kill. Amnesty International has estimated 119 regime opponents were never heard from again after being brought to the compound.

"Colonia de Horror" is the description often given to the commune by Chilean media and Schaefer has been branded a Nazi, although the latter allegation is tenuous.

Pinochet made several visits to the commune when he was in power, posing for pictures with smiling blonde children.

Legal experts say Schaefer, who is confined to a wheelchair, may employ the same defence that Pinochet used to escape punishment for the excesses of his government - that he is medically unfit to stand trial.

DPA

Subject: German news

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