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CLARIN, LA NACION (Argentina), EL PAIS (Spain), AP

Worldcrunch

BUENOS AIRES - Former Argentinean dictator Jorge Videla's landmark 50-year sentence for stealing babies from leftist prisoners was greeted Friday with a mix of closure and vindication by many in the South American nation who suffered through the so-called "dirty war" three decades ago.

The guilty convictions put perhaps the most poignant final marker on the military junta's war on leftist dissidents between 1976 and 1983. According to the Argentine daily Clarin, the Court found that former dictator had developed a "systematic program" to target dissident pregnant women: kidnapping them, and stealing their infants after they were born in clandestine maternity wards. Typically, the mothers were subsequently tortured and killed.

Argentina's last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, also was convicted, and sentenced to 15 years. Both men already were in prison for other human rights abuses.

Under the title "Argentina's Crimes', the Spanish publication El Pais explains the unique cruelty of the "dirty war" and the difficulty in seeking justice for what official records say are more than 13,000 deaths.

A big screen was installed outside the courthouse and a large crowd of people followed the trial and cheered when the sentences were read for Videla, 86, and Bignone, 84.

Nine other people, mostly former military and police officials, also were accused in the trial, which focused specifically on 34 baby thefts, though estimates are that as many as 500 babies were taken from their mothers.

An important driving force in the legal process was the group called "the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo", a human rights group whose evidence-gathering efforts were key to the trial. Witnesses included former U.S. diplomat Elliot Abrams. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. government also revealed little of what it knew as the junta was eliminating opponents.

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