Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 17:34 UK

Argentine ex-army chief on trial

Luciano Benjamin Menendez in court in Cordoba, 27 May 2008
Luciano Menendez was an army chief in Cordoba in the 1970s and 1980s

An ex-army officer viewed by Argentine human rights activists as a prime example of the military's cruel rule in the 1970s and 1980s has gone on trial.

Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 80, and seven other former army officers, are accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing four left-wing activists.

Prosecutors say the victims were dumped in the street to make it look like they died in a shootout with officials.

It is the first big human rights trial to be held in the city of Cordoba.

Most human rights cases to date have been tried in Buenos Aires and the surrounding area. Luciano Benjamin Menendez, who reached the rank of general, was one of Argentina's most feared army officers during military rule between 1976 and 1983.

He commanded the regional Third Army Corps for five years in the northern city of Cordoba.

He, along with seven former colleagues, is accused of the kidnap, torture and killing of four left-wing activists in Cordoba in 1977: Hilda Palacios, Carlos Laja, Ruben Cardozo and Humberto Brandalisi.

Prosecutors say the four were taken to a clandestine torture centre, held bound and gagged for a month, then executed.

Their bodies were then dumped in the street to make it look like they had died in a battle with the authorities - a common practice at the time.

Amnesties and pardons introduced after the return to civilian rule meant that most of those held responsible for the kidnap, torture and killing of tens of thousands of Argentines in the period that became known as the Dirty War escaped prosecution.

But three years ago those laws were ruled unconstitutional and the trials started again.

This trial is the first major one concerning crimes committed during the Dirty War to be held in Cordoba.

The BBC's correspondent in Argentina, Daniel Schweimler, says human rights groups and the friends and family of the victims will be hoping that their long wait for justice is finally over.

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