May 11, 2000

Argentine Congress bars "Dirty War" general

                  BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -- Argentina's Congress voted Wednesday not to
                  allow a former general accused of "Dirty War" crimes during the 1976-83
                  dictatorship to occupy the legislative seat he won in last October's general election.

                  In a special session of the Chamber of Deputies, legislators voted overwhelmingly
                  to refuse to allow Antonio Bussi to serve in the chamber despite his election to a
                  congressional seat.

                  The deputies backed a measure banning the former general as "morally ineligible"
                  for his "direct participation in human rights crimes" during the dictatorship's
                  bloody "Dirty War" against leftist guerrillas and suspected sympathizers.

                  Bussi declined an invitation to defend himself, and his son Ricardo Bussi, who
                  serves as a deputy, was left to stand up for him in a hostile chamber, arguing
                  that the accusations against the elder Bussi were unproven and that banning him
                  was undemocratic.

                  "When I was a prisoner together with victims of the illegal repression in
                  Tucuman, I spoke to witnesses who had seen Bussi in the secret detention
                  centers. He was master of life or death," Deputy Ramon Torres Molina of the
                  governing center-left Alliance said during the five-hour debate.

                  Bussi was military ruler of the poor northern province of Tucuman, where at
                  least 400 people vanished during the period. He was charged with serious human
                  rights abuses after the return of democracy in 1983, but walked free in 1986
                  under a national amnesty law.

                  Bussi, along with other former senior military officers, is under investigation
                  again by judges probing the systemic theft by the military of the babies of
                  detainees. A congressional seat would have granted him immunity from

                  "The Chamber of Deputies cannot be a haven that grants impunity to criminals,"
                  said Alliance Deputy Jorge Rivas.

                  "Here you are not saying 'no' to Bussi, you are saying 'no' to the people of
                  Tucuman who voted for him," Ricardo Bussi said in a speech defending his

                  In 1995, voters in his semi-tropical, sugar cane-producing province, nostalgic
                  for Bussi's straightforward approach to crime-fighting, elected him governor.
                  The provincial Congress suspended him for 60 days in 1998 after Swiss
                  investigators revealed that he had failed to declare secret Swiss bank accounts.

                  Human rights groups say Bussi and other military men stashed away in
                  Switzerland money they stole from their victims in the "Dirty War." But the burly
                  military man said the money was honestly earned and deposited abroad to escape
                  Argentina's hyperinflation of the 1980s.

                  Bussi, who often kept a revolver on his desk during media interviews,
                  successfully ran for Congress during last year's election. He previously served as
                  a national congressman from 1993-95.

                  Bussi also is sought on state terrorism charges by the same Spanish judge who
                  wants to try Chile's former military dictator Augusto Pinochet. But Argentine
                  authorities have not shown any willingness to extradite former military officers
                  accused of human rights abuses.

                  Up to 30,000 people were killed or "disappeared" during the military's reign of
                  terror, and the government has accounted for just 15,000.

                  The most senior dictatorship officers were tried and jailed after the return of
                  democracy. They then were pardoned by former Peronist President Carlos
                  Menem, who was elected in 1989, but many are now under arrest again on
                  orders of judges probing baby thefts.