Argentina to arrest junta at Spain's request

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The Independent US

An Argentine judge has ordered the arrest of 46 former leaders of the country's military dictatorship. He made the order on the request of the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who accuses them of genocide and terrorism.

General Jorge Videla, who led the coup in 1976 that heralded seven years of military rule, and the former naval chief Emilio Massera, part of General Videla's three-man junta, are among those accused. Judge Garzon has 30 days to justify the start of extradition proceedings that could bring the men to trial in Spain. He sought the detentions in 1999 but the former president of Argentina, Fernando de la Rua, blocked his request in 2001.

His suit was revived when Argentina's new President, Nestor Kirchner, promised that he would discard that ruling.

Judge Rodolfo Canicoba said yesterday: "The proceedings will take several months and will have to go before the Supreme Court. Finally, the government will decide."

The 46 accused have all benefited from two laws passed in 1987 by the post-junta democratic government, which granted immunity to those accused of human rights crimes during the dictatorship.

General Videla, Admiral Massera and another general on Judge Garzon's list, Carlos Suarez Mason, have been sentenced to house arrest for organising the theft of babies born to women when they were incarcerated, the only crime not covered by the amnesty.

The laws of Full Stop and Due Obedience were a concession to the armed forces considered necessary for the restoration of democracy, but Mr Kirchner wants Argentina's Supreme Court to declare them unconstitutional. Judge Canicoba's detention order is seen as hastening that process.