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05 Mar 2004 21:24:40 GMT
Sister of missing American asks Chileans for clues

By Fiona Ortiz

SANTIAGO, Chile, March 5 (Reuters) - The sister of a U.S. citizen who disappeared in military-ruled Chile 19 years ago launched a new campaign on Friday to persuade anyone with information about her brother to come forward.

"I still believe he may be alive," Olga Weisfeiler, 60, said at a news conference in the U.S. Embassy in the capital of this South American nation.

Boris Weisfeiler, who was born in Russia, was a 43-year-old math professor at Pennsylvania State University when he disappeared in 1985 on a backpacking trek in south-central Chile. At the time, Chile was ruled by dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Weisfeiler remains the one U.S. citizen unaccounted for among 1,119 people who disappeared during the dictatorship, according to the 2003 book "The Pinochet Files" by Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project. The group researches declassified U.S. government documents.

Some 3,000 people died or disappeared at the hands of security forces during Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990.

Olga Weisfeiler said she was launching a radio and newspaper campaign asking anyone with any details about her brother to contact her or the U.S. Embassy.

She made a special plea for a military man known only by his alias, Daniel, to come forward again.

The man contacted U.S. Embassy officials in 1987. He said Boris Weisfeiler had been arrested by the military in 1985 under suspicion of spying, but was alive and being held in a mysterious German immigrant settlement that also housed a military detention and torture center.

"If he survived two years he may have lived longer," Olga Weisfeiler said.

Weisfeiler never believed her brother drowned in a river as the official reports put it after a perfunctory investigation.

But she was jolted into action on the case in 2000 by declassified U.S. documents that showed the U.S. Embassy had several leads on the case that were never made public.

Also, in 1997 a man claiming to be the same "Daniel" contacted a Chilean radio station and said Boris Weisfeiler had been killed at Colonia Dignidad, the 70-square-mile (180-sq-km) settlement formed in 1961 by a German paramilitary religious sect and almost completely closed to outsiders by roadblocks and barbed-wire fences.

In 2000 Olga Weisfeiler, who lives in the Boston area, persuaded Chilean courts to open a new investigation. In 2002 she met with Defense Minister Michelle Bachelet who promised to do what she could.

"This embassy is still concerned and we want to help her in her efforts," Philip Goldberg, the embassy's charge d'affaires, said at the news conference.

The best-known American victim of the Pinochet regime was journalist Charles Horman, killed by the military after being arrested and tortured. Horman's story became the subject of the 1982 film "Missing."

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