RIOT police using water cannons and batons broke up a crowd of protesters outside Santiago's cathedral last Sunday, as inside Archbishop Juan Francisco Fresno vigorously condemned the murder of three members of the banned Communist Party.
Among the victims, whose mutilated bodies were found on a dirt track near Santiago's international airport at the weekend, was Jose Manuel Parada, a 34-year-old staff member of the church human rights agency, the Solidarity Vicariate. The others were Manuel Guerrero, leader of the Santiago Teachers' Association, and the artist, Santiago Natino Allendo.
Before his homily was interrupted by the riot police, Archbishop Fresno called on the government of General Pinochet "to clarify this 'crime as rapidly as possible to avoid an escalation of violence".
Senor Guerrero and the human rights worker were snatched on Friday afternoon as they stood talking outside the Santiago school which Senor Parada's children attended. The painter was seized on the
previous evening along with four other members of the teachers union. They were released and spoke later of torture, beatings and electric shock treatment given to them by their abductors.
A government spokesman condemned the killings, but blamed them on the opposition parties, who wished to discredit the military regime of General Pinochet.
The Solidarity Vicariate is currently planning legal action over the killing on Friday of two children of staff members. The young people, described as delinquants engaged in a robbery by the security forces, were killed in a gunbattle.
Enritme Palet, the assistant director of the Solidarity Vicariate, said that the police account of events was open to question.
In church circles there have been fears that the government is intent on linking human rights staff with guerrilla activities, and hence opening them to attack and imprisonment.