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Wednesday, June 10, 1998 Published at 03:36 GMT 04:36 UK

World: Americas

'Dirty war' arrest

The former Argentine president faces new charges

A former Argentine president, General Jorge Rafael Videla, has been arrested on kidnapping charges.

It is alleged that, while he was in power, he stole children of government opponents and had them illegally adopted by members of the military.

Some of the children were born in secret torture chambers, while others were just months old when they were given to military couples for a supposed "Christian upbringing."

Their parents were among the thousands of people who were killed or disappeared during military rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

General Videla, who is 71, was arrested on the orders of a federal judge.

BBC correspondent Richard Collings on the dirty war baby scandal.
He is accused of being involved in five kidnappings, including those of two children given to Norberto Bianco, a former military doctor who fled to Paraguay after democracy was restored.

He was extradited to Argentina and jailed on kidnapping charges.

General Videla led the military coup which unseated President Isabela Peron in 1976. As the head of the military, he presided over death squads that waged a "dirty war" of torture and murder against political opponents, mainly left-wing activists, from 1976-1983.

The Argentine government says 9,000 people disappeared during that time, but human rights groups put the figure at 30,000.

The army chief was sentenced to life in prison in 1986 for human rights abuses that occurred during the dictatorship.

In 1990, Videla, along with all middle and senior-ranking officers, was pardoned as part of a decree by President Carlos Menem.

Welcome news for campaigners

Human rights advocates hailed his arrest. "This is the result of more than 20 years of struggling for justice," said left-wing Congressman Alfredo Bravo, who was jailed and tortured during the dirty war.

The BBC Latin America correspondent says there is still a feeling in Argentina that justice has not yet been done for those involved in human rights abuses.

The families of those who disappeared recently persuaded parliament to overturn an amnesty which protected members of the armed forces from further prosecution.

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