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Berlin seeks junta chief’s extradition

Published on 03/03/2004

3 March 2004

BERLIN – The German government is to seek the extradition of former Argentine military junta leader Jorge Videla to stand trial in Nuremberg for the murder of two German citizens in Argentina.

The long-awaited move caps years of legal wrangling, though it was uncertain how Argentina would respond to the request.

Prosecutors in Nuremberg issued an arrest warrant in January for Videla, 78, and two other former military officers on charges of murdering two Germans.

For a quarter of a century a German family has waged a legal battle to see justice done to the men who tortured and killed their daughter.

An Argentine human rights group, Cels, has predicted in Buenos Aires that the extradition request was bound to be turned down by the Argentine government.

But a top official with the Argentine government Human Rights Office said Argentina could no longer “automatically” reject extradition requests as it did under previous administrations and would have to consider the petition once it is handed in to the Argentine Foreign Ministry.

Rodolfo Mattarollo said that President Nestor Kirchner last year ordered the abrogation of a decree that protected Argentine citizens from prosecution abroad for crimes committed in Argentina. However, Mattarollo pointed out that amnesty laws protecting military officers were also annulled by the congress last year, so accused human rights violators like Videla could face trial in Argentina.

Videla seized power through a 1976 military coup and was the first of four presidents of a junta that ruled until 1983.

Human rights organizations estimate that the dictatorship was responsible for almost 30,000 deaths during its seven-year reign. According to the authorities, the toll of the “dirty war” was 15,000.

Warrants were also issued in Nuremberg against a former head of the Argentine navy, Emilio Massera, 78, and the commander of the First Army Corps of Argentinian Military Zone 1, Carlos Guillermo Suarez Mason, 79.

The three men are accused of the murder of Elisabeth Kaesemann, 29, a German sociologist who was studying theology, and Manfred Zieschank, 24, a German technical university student.

The three accused had “jointly initiated regular procedures that utilized the pre-existing chain of command and that led to the killings of the victims”, the indictment states.

A German inquiry has shown Kaesemann was shot dead in the early hours of 25 May 1977 along with several other prisoners near Monte Grande in Buenos Aires province.

Zieschank was strangled in May 1977 on the orders of Mason. His body was dropped into the sea from a military aeroplane.

Kaesemann’s father, Lutheran theology professor, Ernst Kaesemann (1906-1998), waged a desperate battle to free his daughter from the clutches of the Argentine military police and publicly accused German diplomats of being failures for not saving her.

Her body was returned to Germany later and she was buried in her home town, Tuebingen, on 16 June 1977.

The indictment said the three military leaders ordered prisoners murdered so as to cover up the fact they had been tortured.

German law allows the prosecution of crimes committed against Germans anywhere in the world.


Subject: German news