Dakar - Senegal's highest court said on Tuesday it could not try Chad's former ruler, Hissene Habre, for human rights abuses because the alleged crimes had been committed outside Senegal.

The Appeal Court ruling appeared to deal a serious blow to human rights lawyers' efforts to initiate Pinochet-style proceedings against Habre for abuses committed during his 1982-90 rule.

Habre was deposed in a French-backed coup in 1990 and has since lived in Senegal.

A commission set up by Habre's successor in 1991 accused his administration of being responsible for 40 000 political murders and 200 000 cases of torture. It also said Habre had embezzled state funds on a huge scale from the impoverished, land-locked African country.

Habre is seen as a test case. If the Senegal court agreed to try him, it would have been the first time an African ruler had faced trial in a foreign country for abuses committed at home.

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has been the object of legal attempts abroad to try him for human rights crimes committed during his rule. Pinochet, now back in Chile, is out on bail pending a possible trial. - Reuters