SANTIAGO, Chile - Erich Honecker's three-month sojourn in the Chilean Embassy in Moscow has puzzled the world.
Why is Chile, a democratic country that values its hard-fought freedom, sheltering the former boss of the repressive East German Communist Party?
The answer: Thousands of Chileans remember Honecker not as a dictator, but as a humanitarian who gave them asylum in East Germany after a 1973 coup brought Chile under the repressive rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
President Patricio Aylwin said yesterday the diplomatic standoff was nearing resolution - and he hinted broadly that Honecker, 79, would be returned to Germany.
"Honecker is not going to remain forever" in Chile's embassy, Aylwin said in a news conference. "But there are judicial procedures that have to be followed. . . . I'm confident this affair will be resolved soon."
But it won't be soon enough for Germans angry over what they see as weeks of Chilean stalling that has protected Honecker from trial for murder.
"The German public can't understand when Chileans argue that they are sheltering Honecker for humanitarian reasons," said Roland Kliesow, deputy chief of the German Embassy in Santiago. "Erich Honecker a poor little old man? This image of him doesn't fit into the German mind."
"In Erich Honecker's East Germany, solidarity with Chilean exiles was government policy," said Osvaldo Puccio, then the 20-year-old son of President Salvador Allende's personal secretary. "The entire apparatus of the socialist state was put at our disposal."
Chilean exiles were lodged in special hotels and given documents, jobs and even bank loans to buy apartments, Puccio recalled.