Dutch pilot held over Argentine “death flights”

Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:22am EDT

By Ben Berkowitz and Judy MacInnes

AMSTERDAM/MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish authorities have arrested a Dutch-Argentine airline pilot on charges that he flew planes used to throw opponents of Argentina’s former military junta into the sea, Spain said Wednesday.

Julio Alberto Poch, a retired lieutenant in the Argentine navy who holds Dutch and Argentine passports, was arrested on Tuesday at Valencia’s Manises airport during a stopover on the way back to Amsterdam.

Poch was working for the Dutch airline Transavia, owned by Air France-KLM, the airline said. An Argentine government report says more than 11,000 people died or disappeared during the so-called “Dirty War,” a crackdown on alleged leftists and other opponents of the military regime that ruled from 1976 to 1983.

Rights groups say the number is closer to 30,000.

Many of those abducted were sent to torture centres and then murdered. Some were drugged while alive and then dropped out of airplanes or helicopters during so-called “death flights” over the icy South Atlantic or the Rio de la Plata.

Poch is implicated in four criminal cases related to events between 1976 and 1983 and involving over 1,000 victims, the Spanish government said. The Netherlands said he had been arrested at Argentina’s request.

In 2005, Argentina’s Supreme Court, at the urging of then-President Nestor Kirchner, struck down two amnesty laws that shielded hundreds of former officers from charges of human rights abuses during the dictatorship.

Courts have since issued a handful of severe prison sentences for members of the security forces — many now elderly — who were convicted of kidnapping, torturing or killing dissidents.

[original]

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