Tuesday, November 15, 2005

ANTUCO TRAGEDY FORCES THREE OFFICERS TO RETIRE

Army Commander in Chief Juan Emilio Cheyre announced the results of the Antuco military investigation Monday. Gen. Cheyre formally sanctioned nine officers for their responsibility in a military training exercise that left 45 soldiers frozen on the side of the Antuco volcano last May.

Three career officers were forced to resign, six subordinates were officially reprimanded, and 10 soldiers were praised for their actions. Apart from the forced resignations, the Army Chief of Chile’s Division III Gen. Rodolfo Gonz├ílez resigned on Friday as a matter of honor. In his resignation to Gen. Cheyre, the general assumed responsibility for the actions of his subordinates.

Major Patricio Cereceda was forced to retire for giving the order to march. Lieutenant Colonel Luis Pineda was retired for failure to adequately assess the conditions of the order and Colonel Roberto Mercado, commander of the ill-fated Los Angeles Regiment, was forced out for not countermanding Maj. Cereceda’s order to march given the conditions.

“One has to assume that which corresponds, and I assume responsibility for giving the order to march,” said Maj. Cereceda. “I am deeply hurt and very sorry for what happened.”

Besides the three senior officers, six junior officers received jail sentences ranging from two to 10 days and punitive marks on their military records. Gen. Cheyre reprimanded the men for infractions such as the failure to use their mountaineering experience to advise their commanders against the operation, to failure to do more for their subordinates freezing on the march. Of the 45 men that died, only one was an officer.

Gen. Cheyre also praised the actions of two soldiers for questioning the order to march noting that “orders are not sacred words.” Cheyre also praised Sgt. Luis Morales, the only officer to lose his life for exemplary conduct and recommended him for a post mortem promotion.

The results of the six month military investigation were welcomed by the families of the fallen soldiers who had called for the resignation of the officers immediately after the tragedy. Six of the men are also involved in a civilian inquiry into the tragedy, findings in that case may result in further punishment.

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