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New York Times: Death Squad Fears Again Haunt Argentina

A crucial witness in the trial of a notorious human rights abuser has been missing for nearly three weeks, and authorities and rights groups here say they fear he may have been abducted and killed in a new campaign to intimidate prosecutors, judges and witnesses in cases that have not yet gone to court.

Mr. López vanished Sept. 18, one day before Miguel Etchecolatz, who was the police commissioner in Buenos Aires Province during the right-wing military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, was sentenced to life in prison.

The disappearance of Jorge Julio López, 77, a retired construction worker and former political prisoner, has awakened a host of old fears among Argentines. Some worry that it is a signal of a return of right-wing death squads that were thought to be extinct, precisely at the moment when the leaders of those groups are belatedly being summoned to justice.

"They are sending a message, that they can still threaten, kidnap and kill," said Nilda Eloy of the Association of Former Detainees and the Disappeared, referring to former members of the police, security and military forces that were responsible for the forced disappearance of as many as 30,000 people. "There is a great deal of fear."

Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, is awash in posters with Mr. López's name and image, some urging anyone with potential clues or leads to call a hot line, and others proclaiming "We are looking for truth, justice, Julio." The government has offered a $65,000 reward for information that can establish his whereabouts or fate, and on Friday night an estimated 100,000 people marched to the main plaza here to call for Mr. Lopez's reappearance.


Leaders of some rights groups said they had even returned home from meetings to discuss the López case only to find that they had been surreptitiously recorded, and that messages on their phone machines played back their own words.


"The past has not been defeated or overcome," Mr. Kirchner said last month in reference to Mr. López's disappearance, also warning against those who "want to sow fear."

"Let's stay on the alert, Argentines, we can't allow this past to repeat itself," he said.

The government has offered bodyguards to some rights leaders and potential witnesses who may be having second thoughts about testifying in the coming trials.

But some former victims, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were reluctant to accept that offer because the protection would come from members of the same police forces that were under suspicion in Mr. López's disappearance.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sun Oct 8th, 2006 at 06:22:47 AM EST
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