Three pilots charged in Argentine 'death flights'

3rd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

An Argentine court charged three former police officers Thursday with killing five women during the country's 1976-1983 "dirty war" by throwing them out of an airplane while still alive.

Judge Sergio Torres ordered the three men, along with a former military official and lawyer, taken into custody and their assets frozen, according to the statement by the Argentine judiciary.

The men were accused of taking part in some 20 "death flights." Those killed included a French-born nun, Sister Leonie Duquet, and four Argentine women who belonged to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a rights group made of female relatives of people killed or missing during the military dictatorship.

Regime police kidnapped Duquet and another French nun, Alice Domon, in December 1977. Ten members of the mothers group, including the movement's founder Azucena Villaflor, were kidnapped in the same operation.

The remains of Duquet, Villaflor and three other women, whose bodies were buried in 1978, were positively identified in 2005.

Domon's body was never found.

Hundreds of dictatorship-era victims incarcerated at the ESMA Naval Mechanics School are known to have been thrown alive into the ocean on similar "flights of death," human rights groups say.

Trials for crimes committed at ESMA, where 5,000 people were tortured and killed, began in early 2009, and are expected to end in the next few months.

Among those facing charges are 59-year-old Alfredo Astiz, nicknamed the "Blond Angel of Death" for crimes that include the murders of Duquet and Domon.

Astiz, at the time a navy officer operating under a pseudonym, infiltrated the Mothers group and singled out who should be kidnapped, according to trial testimony.

Astiz has already been tried and sentenced to life in absentia by a French court for the Domon and Duquet murders.

On May 6, an Argentine government prosecutor called for a life sentence.

Official figures say 9,000 people were kidnapped, tortured and killed in what became known as Argentina's "dirty war," but many believe the real number to be closer to 30,000.

Lawsuits over abuses under the dictatorship have been on the rise since the late Nestor Kirchner, who was president until 2007, overturned a broad amnesty of junta-era crimes that was enacted after democracy was restored in 1983.

Cristina Kirchner, who succeeded her husband as president in 2007, is continuing the post-amnesty policy.

© 2011 AFP

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