A Chilean court stripped former dictator Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution in a third criminal case on Thursday, this time for the 1974 assassination of a Chilean general and political foe.
The Santiago Appeals Court has removed Pinochet's automatic immunity twice before but the 89-year-old has so far eluded trial on grounds his mental health is weak.
Gen. Carlos Prats, who was commander in chief of Chile's army before Pinochet, was living in exile in Buenos Aires when he and his wife were killed by a car bomb. He was seen as a potential political threat to Pinochet, who tried to remove all opposition to his strong-arm rule.
More than 3,000 people died and disappeared in political violence during Pinochet's 1973-90 military regime, but Pinochet has never been convicted in any of dozens of human rights cases against him.
The ruling was announced by the court's top judge.
"The facts of this case merited the stripping of immunity, and we will now take the legal steps to make him face the proof we have against him," said Pamela Pereira, lawyer for the Prats family. Under Chilean law, victims can participate in the prosecution.
Chile's Supreme Court has upheld the appeals court's immunity rulings in two previous Pinochet cases.
Former Chilean spy Enrique Arancibia is serving a life sentence in Argentina for being one of the participants in the assassination of Prats, who had supported President Salvador Allende, who killed himself during the Sept. 11, 1973, military coup that launched Pinochet to power.
Chile returned to democracy in 1990 and has been ruled by three successive center-left presidents, becoming a model of political and economic stability in South America.