Prosecutor seeks trials for South American military

Officers in 'Operation Condor' probed in Italian disappearances

Prosecutor seeks trials for South American military

Rome, June 18 - A Rome prosecutor requested Tuesday that 35 members of South American military juntas in the 1970s and 1980s be ordered to stand trial in the deaths of 23 Italians. The former military and security personnel worked in Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay and are accused by Rome prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo of contributing to the disappearances of Italians, through Operation Condor. That was an official campaign implemented in 1975 by right-wing dictatorships in the region and aimed at making suspected left-wing dissidents disappear. Condor's key members were the governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. The group currently before the Rome court - including two Bolivians, 12 Chileans, four Peruvians, and 17 Uruguayans - range in age from 64 to 92. The defendants face charges ranging from multiple counts of murder to kidnapping. They include Bolivia's former interior minister Luis Gomez Arce, former Peruvian prime minister Pedro Richter Prada, Chile's former head of the intelligence Juan Manuel Contreras, and General Francisco Morales Bermudez, who was president of Peru for five years. Families of the Italian-born victims have been campaigning for years for the cases to be brought before the Italian courts. The Italian investigation, which lasted about 10 years, was started by Capaldo in 1998 and involved as many as 140 people; however, bureaucratic red tape and the ages of the accused made it difficult for many to be found or charged. But it has yielded some convictions. In March 2009, Italy's supreme court convicted an Argentinian ex-navy officer responsible for all the death flights during Argentina's so-called Dirty War in the 1970s and '80s. At the same time, several other defendants were convicted of torturing and murdering three Italian-Argentinians during Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. In a related case that grabbed headlines in Italy in Christmas 2007, a Uruguayan ex-navy intelligence officer accused of murdering four Italian citizens was found to have been living in Salerno for years undisturbed. A year later Italy refused an extradition request for the man, Nestor Jorge Fernandez Troccoli, on the grounds that he was an Italian citizen.

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