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Missing witness in Argentine 'dirty war' trial found

Gerez is said to have been blindfolded, beaten up and burned with cigarettes

Missing witness in Argentine 'dirty war' trial found

A key witness in an Argentine "dirty war" human rights trial who disappeared two days ago was found Friday, and a friend said he had been abducted, beaten and burned with cigarettes.
Luis Gerez was found just minutes after Argentine President Nestor Kirchner blamed the disappearance of Gerez and another trial witness on former security agents who were trying to impede efforts to try alleged abusers during the 1966-73 military dictatorship.
Gerez, 51, a witness against a former police chief charged with torture during the dictatorship, disappeared Wednesday night in the town of Escobar, just north of the capital of Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires Security Minister Leon Arslanian said Gerez was found by police on a street in Garin, a town just north of Buenos Aires. He was naked from the waist up, but was in generally good condition, Arslanian said.
A friend who spoke to Gerez at a hospital, Alberto Fernandez de Rosa, said Gerez told him that he had been abducted by three men who had blindfolded, beat and burned him with cigarettes.
Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez said Gerez's disappearance was "politically motivated," but did not elaborate.
Kirchner had postponed a trip to the southern province of Santa Cruz for New Year's Eve to coordinate efforts to locate Gerez, the second "dirty war" trial witness to vanish in recent months. The Buenos Aires provincial government offered US$130,000 for information on Gerez's whereabouts.
Gerez's relatives told Channel 7 television the construction worker was scared but in good condition.
Minutes before Gerez reappeared, Kirchner made a nationally televised address in which he said his government would not yield to what he called a blackmail bid by former military and police agents seeking impunity for abusers during the military dicatatorship.
Julio Lopez, another "dirty war" witness whose testimony was instrumental in sentencing former police chief Miguel Etchecolatz to life in prison for the disappearance of six people, disappeared on September 18 and remains missing.
"Everything seems to indicate than in both cases there has been the work of what has been known as the unemployed, that is, former police and military agents who want to intimidate, pursuing their goal of maintaining impunity," Kirchner said earlier Friday.
"We are not going to yield to this blackmail, we are not going to allow the trials be stopped," Kirchner said. "On the contrary, we demand the courts to speed them up so that once and for all the assassins be sent to where they belong - common prisons."
Gerez has accused retired police chief Luis Abelardo Patti of torturing him in 1972.
In testimony before a congressional committee, Gerez said he was arrested and given electric shocks. He said that although he was blindfolded, he recognized Patti's voice. As a result of the testimony, Patti was prevented from assuming a congressional seat he won in October 2005.
Kirchner has previously said he was growing impatient with the low number of trials since Argentina's Supreme Court in June 2005 struck down 1980s-era amnesty laws shielding hundreds of former military and police officers.
Although two groundbreaking trials yielded convictions this year, Kirchner said the justice system must accelerate its response to the systematic campaign of abductions, tortures and covert killings under the 1976-83 junta.
Nearly 13,000 people are officially listed as missing or killed in the crackdown on political dissent, known as the "dirty war," conducted by the state through the military and its police allies. Human rights groups say the toll is closer to 30,000.

Updated : 2022-01-19 00:27 GMT+08:00