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Convictions in Argentina’s landmark death squad trials

Former navy captain Alfredo Astiz, Argentina's infamous ‘Blond Angel of Death,’ and 11 other death squad members from the 1970s were jailed for life on Wednesday in one of the country's biggest human rights cases.

However the Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a French request to extradite Astiz, who was also convicted in absentia in Europe for killing two French nuns during the 1976-1983 ‘Dirty War.’

See Reuters reports here and here.

Astiz stood trial with other former officials accused of horrific crimes at the ESMA Naval Mechanics School, where about 5,000 dissidents were held and tortured during the ‘Dirty War’. Few of the captives survived.

Marking the end of a 22-month trial in which 79 survivors gave evidence, 12 defendants were sentenced to life while four others were punished with between 18 and 25 years in jail.

Astiz boasted of his dictatorship-era crimes in a magazine interview in 1998, saying he was "the best-trained man in Argentina to kill journalists and politicians."

"I'm not sorry for anything," Astiz added.

As a young naval intelligence officer he infiltrated the 'Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo' human rights group, which was set up to find relatives abducted by the security forces.

He then arranged the kidnap and murder of its three founders - Azucena Villaflor, Esther Ballestrino and Maria Ponce. (See BBC's report here).

Human rights groups say Argentina's military government killed up to 30,000 people during the six-year dictatorship. Most of them disappeared and their bodies were never found.

The Supreme Court said that Astiz should not be extradited to France since he is currently on trial in Argentina for crimes against the same victims, the two nuns.

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