Latin America & Caribbean

Ex-army chief Juan Emilio Cheyre admits Chile adoption

General Juan Emilio Cheyre, file image 2005
Image caption General Juan Emilio Cheyre rose through the ranks under Gen Pinochet's rule

Chile's former army chief has admitted handing over for adoption the child of murdered left-wing activists after Augusto Pinochet's 1973 military coup.

Juan Emilio Cheyre, who is the current head of the electoral commission, told El Mercurio he took the two-year-old to a convent and handed him to nuns.

The boy, Ernesto Lejderman, was raised in Argentina by his grandparents.

Mr Lejderman, now 40, said he did not think Mr Cheyre should face charges over the incident.

The BBC's Gideon Long in Santiago says it is the first time Mr Cheyre has spoken publicly about the case.

He told the newspaper he was only 25 years old at the time, and was only following the orders of his superior.

But his critics want him to resign as election chief.

Thousands of left-wing activists were killed or disappeared in Chile under Gen Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule.

Soldiers convicted

Mr Lejderman's parents, Argentine Bernardo Lejderman and his Mexican wife Maria Avalos, were left-wing activists who fled to a remote mountain valley after Gen Pinochet came to power.

Within months, the military had hunted them down and killed them.

Mr Lejderman was with his parents but survived the attack.

After being cared for in the convent he was sent to Argentina to be brought up by his paternal grandparents.

They told him his parents had died in a car crash.

He only discovered the truth at the age of 12 when he found a scrapbook of media reports about his parents' death.

In 2009, three former soldiers were convicted of the murders.

Mr Lejderman, who lives in Argentina, says he accepts that Mr Cheyre was not directly involved in the killings and should not face criminal charges.

But he added that in the interests of truth and reconciliation he should acknowledge his role in the case.

Mr Cheyre served as commander-in-chief of the army from 2002 to 2006, after rising through the ranks in a 40-year military career.

He became head of the electoral commission earlier this year.

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