Human Rights Watch took the Argentine government to task Wednesday for its failure to back trials of those charged with gross human rights violations during the "dirty war" of the late 1970s and early 80s. The rights group, while accusing the government of dragging its feet, praised Argentina's judiciary for doing all it can to speed up long-stalled prosecutions of middle and top-level military officials.

After more than eight months of research, Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Watch released its findings Wednesday on Argentina's efforts to prosecute human rights violations under the eight years of brutal military dictatorship that took power in 1976.

During that period - known as the "dirty war" - the military junta kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of Argentines. The government acknowledges at least 9,000 people were killed or disappeared during the years of military dictatorship. But human rights groups put the deaths and disappearances at close to 30,000.

Head of the human rights group, Jose Miguel Vivanco, at a news conference praised a federal judge's March ruling -- later upheld on appeal - that declared various amnesty laws for those implicated in the attrocities unconstitutional. However, he noted, President Fernando de la Rua's administration should be more forthcoming in dealing with issues within its own jurisdiction, especially extradition of those wanted by other countries and speedy investigation of deaths of Argentinians during the years of the "dirty war."

Spain, Italy, France, and Germany are among the countries whose extradition requests have been denied by Buenos Aires on the grounds that Argentina doesn't extradite its citizens for trial abroad. Trials at home, however, have been held up by the various amnesty laws.

Only recenlty, the executive branch has ordered lower courts to look into the basis of each extradition request and determine whether or not an investigation should be opened.