Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Argentine officers freed on bail

Composite picture of Alfredo Astiz (R) and Jorge "El Tigre" Acosta
Alfredo Astiz (R) and Jorge Acosta are two of the men ordered released

An Argentine court has ordered the release from prison of 14 men accused of committing human right abuses during the country's years of military rule.

The court ordered that the men be released on bail after finding that they had been held for more than two years without trial.

They will still face trial.

The men worked at the Naval Mechanics School, known as Esma, the largest clandestine detention centre in Buenos Aires during the "Dirty War".

"Today is a day of shame for Argentines, humanity and our justice system," said President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in a speech at Esma.

During the military rule between 1976 and 1983 the authorities kidnapped, tortured and killed tens of thousands of people.

Among those ordered freed is Alfredo Astiz, one of the most notorious figures during the Dirty War, who is charged with the murder of two French nuns in 1977.

Family setback

It was at Esma that newborn babies were taken from their mothers and given for adoption to childless military couples. The mothers were then killed.

Other prisoners were dropped, bound and drugged, from military aircraft nearby.

The ruling is a setback to victims' families and human rights campaigners in Argentina, who have battled for years to put behind bars some of those responsible for the abuses, the BBC's Daniel Schweimler reports from Buenos Aires.

Progress had been slow, but in recent years some high-profile torturers and killers had been convicted and imprisoned.

Many were hoping that the trials of the men just released would reveal the truth and the horror of what went on in Esma, our correspondent adds.

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