July 6, 2000

Argentine relatives to sue UK for Belgrano 'war crime'

                  BUENOS AIRES, (Reuters) -- Relatives of all 323 Argentine sailors killed when
                  the light cruiser General Belgrano was sunk in the Falklands War in 1982 will sue
                  for compensation and a war crimes trial for Margaret Thatcher.

                  After two parents filed for damages at the European Court of Human Rights in
                  Strasbourg, France, this week, the rest of the seamen's relatives announced
                  Thursday that they would also seek justice for what they call a war crime.

                  The Belgrano, originally a U.S. ship which survived Pearl Harbor before going on
                  to become the pride of the Argentine fleet, was sunk by three torpedoes on May
                  2, 1982 after being tracked for nearly 36 hours by the British nuclear submarine
                  HMS Conqueror.

                  Argentines have long argued it was sunk on the orders of then British Prime
                  Minister Margaret Thatcher when it was outside a 200-mile (320-km) exclusion
                  zone around the Falkland Islands, heading for home. They believe she wanted to
                  undermine peace talks and enter the war to boost her popularity at home.

                  "We've fought for this for 18 years. They never admitted it was a war crime,"
                  said Paula Sosa, 63, whose son Osvaldo died on the Belgrano. "They are helping
                  us from the sky and the sea, because now Thatcher is going to get what she

                  "We don't want much money because money comes and goes, we want her in
                  jail like any other murderer," she told Reuters.

                  The kin of the Belgrano dead, nearly half of Argentina's losses in the 10-week
                  war over the South Atlantic islands whose ownership Argentina has disputed
                  since 1833, say it was sunk in the absence of a formal declaration of war and
                  contrary to wartime conventions set down in the Hague in 1907.

                  Two Argentine lawyers are in Strasbourg this week seeking damages for the
                  parents of two Belgrano victims. Now relatives of the remaining 321 dead have
                  instructed lawyer Teresa Moya Dominguez to represent them in Argentina and in

                  "We want Argentina's Supreme Court to rule on this, though it will probably say
                  that traditionally foreign powers have immunity, and we are preparing our case
                  to present to the European Court," Moya Rodriguez told reporters.

                  Their case is inspired by the arrest in London in 1998 of Chilean ex-dictator
                  Augusto Pinochet for human rights crimes.

                  "It is now the right moment in history for this. Ten years ago it would have been
                  impossible," said the lawyer.

                  Asked how much the relatives would seek in damages or what sentence
                  Thatcher might face if convicted, the lawyer was cautious: "What we want
                  fundamentally is for the sinking of the General Belgrano to be recognized as a
                  war crime."

                  Argentine Interior Minister Federico Storani said this week he was "in favor of
                  criminal action" against Thatcher.

                  But although then President Carlos Menem said in 1994 that she should be
                  extradited if it were proved the sinking of the Belgrano was a war crime, his
                  Defense Ministry concluded in a report shortly afterwards that it was "a legal act
                  of war."

                  Diplomatic relations between Britain and Argentina were restored in 1990 and
                  trade ties are flourishing. Argentina has hosted visits by British royals and
                  Menem met Queen Elizabeth in London in 1998.

                  Argentina continues to press its claim to the windswept islands, whose 2,000
                  inhabitants are fiercely pro-British, but by purely diplomatic channels at the
                  United Nations.

                  "It's not the fault of the British people," said Irineo Sosa, 65, whose son Miguel
                  Angel -- the eldest of 12 children -- died on the Belgrano. "The only person I
                  accuse is the one who gave the order to sink the Belgrano: Margaret Thatcher."

                  A British diplomat said London had not been officially informed of any court
                  action. "It will be for the European Court to decide whether the application is