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By Erik Lopez
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean judge ordered jail sentences for over 100 former secret police from Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship this week, the biggest mass sentence to date for human rights abuses from the period.
Judge Hernan Cristoso convicted 106 ex-agents who worked for Pinochet's DINA intelligence service for the kidnapping and killing of 16 people during "Operation Colombo" in the early years of the 1973-1990 dictatorship.
The judge ruled the 16 killed were leftist militants or members of the socialist party who had been arrested by DINA agents in 1974 or 1975 in Santiago. They were transferred to torture centres around the city and were not again seen alive.
At the time, authorities explained the disappearances by saying the victims had fled the country. They later changed their story and said the victims were killed due to internecine fighting.
Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in September 1973. His secret police collaborated with dictatorships in neighbouring Argentina and in Brazil amid a wider crackdown called "Operation Condor."
During Pinochet's rule, some 3,000 people died or disappeared in Chile, and thousands more - including current President Michelle Bachelet - were tortured or went into exile.
Chile long grappled with the task of bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes committed in that era, and crusading judges and more sympathetic authorities have led to an increase in convictions in recent years.
The 106 ex-agents were sentenced to between 541 days and 20 years in jail. Many are already serving time for other cases. The state was ordered to pay around 5 billion Chilean pesos ($7.5 million) to the families of the deceased.
($1 = 670.6800 Chilean pesos)
(Reporting by Erik Lopez, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Dan Grebler)