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Saturday, April 24, 1999 Published at 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK


World: Americas

Army chief probed over babies scandal

Argentine army: Nine former officers are implicated

Argentina's army chief has given evidence before a judge investigating the theft of hundreds of babies during the country's period of military rule.


Ian Haddow reports: The only way to bring former military leaders to justice
General Martin Balza is the first senior serving officer to be questioned in the inquiry into the wholesale theft of babies born to women detained in the "Dirty War" during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Nine former military leaders have been implicated in the scandal.

The mothers of the children who disappeared were allegedly killed and many of the babies illegally adopted by army and police families.

Rights groups have tracked down about 60 such children and restored some to their original families. But they say at least 200 children were stolen from their mothers in the torture camps.

Top brass detained

The case has led to the detention of some former top military officers, including Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, and ex-admiral Emilio Massera. All had been pardoned by President Carlos Menem in 1990.

General Balza has never been charged with human rights abuses and has condemned the baby thefts as "monstrous". However he was summoned as a witness to clarify whether any army unit had documentation that could serve as proof of the crimes.

After appearing at the Buenos Aires court, General Balza said that despite carrying out his own inquiries, he had found no evidence at defence headquarters to back up the allegations.

Evidence

One of the general's predecessors, the last junta army commander, Cristino Nicolaides, said recently that such records do exist. When the dictatorship ended in 1983, he had ordered some, but not all of the documents to be destroyed, he said.

Mr Nicolaides is one of the nine senior officers who were arrested by federal Judge Adolfo Bagnasco and other judges investigating the baby thefts.

A BBC correspondent says that for many people in Argentina, this case is the only way to bring the former military leaders to justice for crimes committed under their rule, after President Menem declared the blanket amnesty 10 years ago.

Human rights groups say 30,000 people died or "disappeared" after they were kidnapped and taken to secret torture centres in the military's campaign against leftist guerrillas and suspected sympathisers. Official records document 15,000 victims.



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Relevant Stories

12 Feb 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Argentina's missing babies

25 Nov 98 | Americas
Argentina baby theft arrest

19 Aug 98 | Top features
The Living Disappeared

10 Jun 98 | Americas
'Dirty war' arrest





Internet Links


Argentina Ministry of Justice (in Spanish)

Argentina Human Rights Information

The Vanished Gallery - information on the disappeared


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