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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 September, 2003, 04:08 GMT 05:08 UK
Argentina rejects French Astiz bid
Argentine Captain Alfredo Astiz
Astiz is accused of human rights abuses
An Argentine court has refused a request from Paris for the extradition of a former naval officer whom France has convicted of killing two nuns.

Alfredo Astiz - nicknamed the Blond Angel of Death - was tried and convicted in his absence by a French court for the murder of two French nuns who disappeared in Argentina in 1977.

A judge in Buenos Aires said Mr Astiz would remain to face trial in Argentina for other human rights offences.

The ruling follows the decision in August to repeal immunity laws that for two decades protected members of the country's former junta against prosecution.

Families of those who "disappeared" during the country's military rule between 1976 and 1983 have insisted that Mr Astiz should face justice at home.

But the decision not to send him to France is likely to anger lawyers representing the families of the two murdered nuns, who insisted last week that the French request for his extradition take precedence over legal proceedings in Buenos Aires.

'Dirty war'

In Argentine law a defendant can choose whether to be tried in Argentina or in the country wishing to extradite him.

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner
The Argentine president has led a dramatic shake-up in the country
Court sources told French news agency AFP that Mr Astiz's decision to face trial in Argentina reduced "practically to zero" his chances of being extradited to France.

Mr Astiz, who handed himself in to authorities on Tuesday, is suspected by prosecutors of using a Navy school as a torture centre during military rule.

He was convicted and condemned to life imprisonment by a French court in 1990 of involvement in the disappearance of the two nuns, Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet.

Official figures say 9,000 people were kidnapped, tortured and killed in what became known as the "Dirty War" - but most believe the real number to be closer to 30,000.

Argentine human rights groups have long demanded justice for those who tortured and murdered their left-wing opponents.

The overturning of immunity laws is just part of a dramatic shake-up by Nestor Kirchner, who became Argentina's president in May.

Other steps by Mr Kirchner have included sacking eight out of 10 of the country's top police officers in a bid to stamp down on corruption and the opening of sealed intelligence files on the deadly bombing of a Jewish centre in 1994.

Argentina overturns amnesty laws
13 Aug 03  |  Americas
Cavallo case sets precedent
29 Jun 03  |  Americas
Argentine faces 'dirty war' trial
11 Jun 03  |  Americas
Timeline: Argentina
26 May 03  |  Country profiles

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