February 1, 2000
Argentina to help find bodies of Jewish dissidents

                  JERUSALEM (AP) -- An Israeli Cabinet minister said Tuesday that
                  Argentina's president has promised to help locate the bodies of Jewish
                  dissidents killed during the South American nation's "dirty war."

                  Diaspora Affairs Minister Michael Melchior said Argentine President
                  Fernando de la Rua made the commitment when the two met last week in
                  Stockholm at an international conference on preserving the memory of the
                  Nazi Holocaust.

                  The Argentine government did not return repeated phone calls to confirm
                  Melchior's version of the meeting.

                  During Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship, at least 9,000 leftists and
                  dissidents vanished after being detained by the junta's security forces,
                  according to a government report. Human rights groups say the figure is
                  closer to 30,000.

                  Argentina's largest Jewish group, the Delegation of Argentine Jewish
                  Organizations, or DAIA, estimates at least 1,500 Jews "disappeared" during
                  the country's "dirty war." Melchior put the number at 2,000.

                  According to human rights groups and survivor accounts, opponents to the
                  military regime who were Jewish were often singled out for harsher treatment
                  by military personnel.

                  Melchior said de la Rua's offer showed the new president was determined to
                  "build a new image of Argentina, and to fight against anti-Semitism."

                  The pledge showed courage, Melchior said. "Coming to Stockholm was not
                  easy for him," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

                  The Argentine government did not return repeated phone calls to confirm
                  Melchior's version of the meeting.

                  Melchior, a rabbi, said he hoped de la Rua's pledge of cooperation could
                  help some families of the disappeared track down the missing bodies for a
                  Jewish ritual burial, an act he said he hoped would give them with a sense of

                  In 1985, Argentina's top junta leaders were sentenced to life in prison after
                  public trials found them guilty of human rights abuses. But the imprisoned
                  leaders were freed five years later on a presidential pardon signed by
                  then-President Carlos Menem.

                  Melchior said de la Rua also promised to reinvigorate investigations into two
                  bombing attacks on the Jewish community in Buenos Aires. A 1992
                  bombing of the Israeli embassy killed 29 people, and two years later an
                  attack on a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital claimed 86

                  There have been no major convictions in either case and Israel has criticized
                  the Argentine authorities' conduct of the investigations as slow and inept.
                  Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy has called them "an open sore."

                  U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies have blamed Iranian-backed groups for
                  the bombings, a charge Tehran has denied.

                   Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.