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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 01:42 GMT 02:42 UK
Argentines jailed for baby theft
By Elliott Gotkine
BBC correspondent in Buenos Aires

The mothers of Plaza de Mayo
Argentina's military leaders launched a "dirty war" on the left
An Argentine court has found two police officials guilty of stealing babies from murdered detainees in the "dirty war" and handing them on for adoption.

Miguel Etchecolatz and Jorge Berges were sentenced to seven years in jail.

It is the first time an Argentine court has condemned senior officials under the military dictatorship for stealing babies, and it could set a precedent.

Human rights groups estimate up to 30,000 people were killed or "disappeared" in the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Human rights groups cheered and chanted inside the courtroom as the sentences were read out of provincial police chief Etchecolatz and police physician Berges.

Both were found guilty of arranging the theft of a baby born to imprisoned Uruguayan parents who later murdered.

Etchecolatz maintains his innocence.

A serious crime

Of all the crimes committed under Argentina's last military junta, baby snatching was arguably the cruellest.

In the country's clandestine torture centres, like the navy mechanic school in Buenos Aires, women who gave birth while detained often had their new-born children taken away to be handed over to military officials to be raised as their own.

Some 400 children are believed to have been stolen in this way, of which 77 have since been discovered and had their identities returned.

Perhaps recognising the seriousness of the crime, Argentine courts have argued that baby snatching was never included in any of the country's amnesty laws.

Several cases have been opened against former officials including junta leaders, Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera - both of whom are under arrest awaiting trial.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Elliot Gotkine
"Some 400 children are believed to have been stolen"



SEE ALSO:
Argentina's long wait for justice
26 Jul 03  |  Americas
Argentina scraps amnesty laws
21 Aug 03  |  Americas
Timeline: Argentina
20 Feb 04  |  Country profiles


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