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Argentine Officer Charged with Human Rights Abuses Arrives in Spain for Trial - 2003-06-29


Mexico has handed over to Spain a retired Argentinian naval officer to stand trial for human rights abuses during Argentina's military dictatorship.

Impeccably dressed in a black suit and wearing a bulletproof vest, 52-year-old Ricardo Cavallo arrived in Madrid aboard a Spanish air force plane amid high security measures.

Spanish High Court Judge Baltasar Garzon has indicted him for crimes of terrorism and genocide committed between 1975 and 1983 during the military dictatorship in Argentina.

He is accused of having worked for a special operations group based in the notorious Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, where as many as 30,000 dissidents and suspected leftwingers were detained and from where many of them disappeared. Judge Garzon accuses Mr. Cavallo specifically of taking part in the disappearance of 227 people and the kidnapping and torture of 110. Among his alleged victims were at least three Spanish citizens.

The Spanish judge who is best known for his attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet, has also indicted another 98 Argentinian officers for human rights crimes. But an Argentinian amnesty law has prevented their extradition.

Ricardo Cavallo was arrested in Cancun, Mexico, in 2000 after victims of the so-called "dirty war" in Argentina identified him as Captain Miguel Angel Cavallo, alias Serpico, one of the interrogators at the Naval Mechanics School. Judge Garzon immediately requested his extradition and it was granted by Mexico's supreme court three weeks ago.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has called Cavallo's extradition to Spain a victory for the principal of universal jurisdiction, which holds that human rights crimes committed in one country can be tried in another country's courts.