The Promotion of Alfredo Astiz

Date: 7 May 1995 21:19:26 +0100

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) - Only days after publicly repenting of the military's torture and murder of leftists in the 1970s, the head of Argentina's navy has praised the morality of the force's most famous ``dirty warrior'' and said he could be promoted.

Captain Alfredo Astiz, who cannot leave Argentina because of Interpol arrest orders for the kidnapping and murder of two French nuns and a teenage girl, ``has all the moral qualities needed to be a naval officer and his promotion could be considered in the future,'' newspapers quoted Adm. Enrique Molina Pico as saying Saturday.

Known as the ``blond angel'', Astiz infiltrated human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and is wanted in France for the disappearance of nuns Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet in 1977. Swedish courts have also linked him with the death of Dagmar Hagelin.

Molina Pico's comments came after he joined the stream of mea culpas by the armed forces earlier this week, admitting the navy committed unnacceptable ``horrors'' in the military juntas' secret war against leftists in the 1970s. Some 10,000 disappeared without trace and 4,000 were killed during military rule from 1976 to 1983.

But, despite his earlier public repentence on behalf of the navy and his condemnation of past atrocities, Molina Pico defended Astiz -- for human rights groups an emblem of violent oppression but still a serving officer.

The captain was ``tried by Argentine courts and cleared,'' Molina Pico said, referring to his absolution by a military tribunal. Later charges against Astiz were dropped in a civilian court because he was following orders.

Astiz narrowly escaped extradition to France in 1982, after surrendering to British troops in the Falkland Islands. Britain eventually handed him back to Argentina under conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

Memories of Argentina's painful past surfaced earlier this year when a retired navy captain recounted how he had helped throw drugged political prisoners out of aircraft to their deaths in the sea. In April, armed forces chiefs began to admit publicly for the first time that the juntas used immoral and brutal means in their fight against leftist extremists.

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