Galtieri to be quizzed over baby-stealing

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GENERAL LEOPOLDO Galtieri, the man who ordered the invasion of the Falklands Islands in 1982, could be the latest former Argentinian military leader to be charged with baby-snatching from political prisoners during the "Dirty War".

Argentinian judicial sources said that federal judge Adolfo Bagnasco would call General Galtieri in for questioning, probably this week, in connection with the kidnapping of hundreds of babies from women prisoners who later "disappeared". Some of the women gave birth blindfolded and bound in military camps and never saw their babies. Some of the women were thendumped, alive but drugged, from aircraft into the Atlantic ocean, according to witnesses.

Eight other former military chiefs from the 1976-83 military regimes are in detention, facing prison terms of up to 25 years on baby-stealing charges.

"General Galtieri is to be called in for questioning and could be detained shortly," said a source in Mr Bagnasco's office. The general, who lives in Buenos Aires, was given amnesty in 1990 after being jailed for his role in the Falklands defeat.

More than 400 babies were taken from their mothers under the various military regimes. Some were killed with their mothers, some were later traced and reunited with their grandparents, but most were handed over to childless police or army officers and are probably alive today unaware of their true families.

President Carlos Menem gave amnesty to Argentina's former military rulers in 1990 after they had spent a few years in jail for their roles in the Dirty War. Since last summer, when a judge ruled that the kidnapping of babies was not covered by Mr Menem's amnesty, eight former Argentinian military chiefs have been detained, including the former junta leaders, General Jorge Videla and Admiral Emilio Massera. General Videla, 72, who overthrew President Maria Estela ("Isabelita") Peron in a coup in 1976, was jailed for life in 1985 for mass murder, torture and kidnapping during his regime, when an estimated 30,000 Argentinians were killed or disappeared. He was among those given amnesty in 1990.

Some of the eight detainees awaiting trial are in jail, others are under house arrest. Some, including General Videla, also face charges from the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon - who is seeking to put the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet on trial - in connection with the disappearance of Spanish citizens during the Dirty War.

In Buenos Aires, the group known as Grannies of the Plaza de Mayo expressed satisfaction that General Galtieri may be the next to be detained. "He was a maximum leader of the junta. They all bear some responsibility for the era during which they ruled," said Elsa Pavon, a 61-year-old member of the Grannies. While the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are seeking justice for disappeared sons and daughters they presume dead, the Grannies are seeking the living children of some of those sons and daughters - "the living disappeared".

The Grannies have traced more than 60 children - now young adults - and had them returned to their biological grandparents after court cases. But they are still seeking more than 300 others.

Mrs Pavon's daughter Monica fled with her husband and baby daughter Paula to Uruguay during the Argentinian military era. Due to the collaboration between the Argentinian and Uruguayan generals, the couple disappeared in Montevideo in 1978. When the military regime ended in 1983, the Grannies put photos of their missing grandchildren in newspapers. Mrs Pavon got a tip that a former policeman had a daughter matching Paula's description.

DNA tests proved the girl was Paula and she was handed over to Mrs Pavon's custody. She is now a 22-year-old student.

The civilian authorities exhumed bodies buried under headstones marked NN (No Nombre, or No Name). They found Barbara and Roberto Lanouscou, aged six and five, both shot in the back. Near by, where they expected to find the children's baby sister Matilde, the diggers pulled out a teddy bear. Matilde was presumably passed on to an army or police officer. She remains missing.