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Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 18:48 GMT


Spanish prosecutors appeal 'dirty war' warrants

Former president Jorge Videla is among 98 Argentinians indicted

Spanish state prosecutors have begun moves to try to cancel indictments against 98 Argentine military officers.

Charges of genocide, terrorism and torture were brought by Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon, who is also pursuing the extradition of the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

The prosecutor's office said that the judge did not have jurisdiction over non-Spanish citizens outside Spanish territory.

[ image: Garzon: Investigating the deaths of Spanish citizens]
Garzon: Investigating the deaths of Spanish citizens
It said the indictments should be revoked, and called for the cancellation of international arrest warrants against those charged.

Argentina's president-elect, Fernando de la Rua, criticised the arrest warrants on similar grounds on Wednesday.

Mr de la Rua, who takes office next month, said he had consulted legal experts who had assured him the warrants did not cover Argentinian territory.

On Thursday, Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes said he hoped Judge Garzon would not translate the warrants into an extradition request.

He said there was a need to respect Argentina's own decisions in the affair.

The 'dirty war'

The charges stem from Judge Garzon's three-year investigation into the fate of Spanish citizens who died or disappeared during military rule in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, at a time known as the "dirty war".

[ image: Menem: Accused Spain of interference]
Menem: Accused Spain of interference
Official investigations found that more than 9,000 opponents of the military regimes were killed or disappeared, although some human rights groups say the figure could be as high as 30,000.

Thousands also fled the country, many settling in Spain where they have been working to bring those responsible for the alleged crimes to justice.

Former presidents Leopoldo Galtieri and Jorge Videla, and the former navy commander Emilio Massera are on the list of 98 Argentine citizens charged.

But Argentina has argued that, unlike its neighbours, it has already tried and jailed the ex-dictators, though they were pardoned by President Menem after he came to power in 1989.

Mr Menem has criticised Spain for trying to intervene with Argentina's sovereign power.

The state prosecutors trying to overturn the Argentina indictments failed earlier this year to persuade Spain to scrap the Pinochet case on similar grounds.

Spain's top court backed Judge Garzon, saying such crimes can be prosecuted no matter where they are committed.

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