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Eight South Americans convicted in Italy for Cold War crimes

Eight South Americans convicted in Italy for Cold War crimesA court in Italy has sentenced eight former South American political and military leaders to life terms in absentia for their involvement in the disappearance and deaths of 23 people of Italian origin during the 1970s and 1980s.

The court on Tuesday also acquitted another 19 people in the case over “Operation Condor,” the secret alliance of South American military dictatorships during which military leaders cooperated in persecuting and assassinating one another’s political opponents.

Former Bolivian president Luis García Meza Tejada, former Peruvian president Francisco Morales Bermudez, two retired Chilean army officials, and a Uruguayan politician were among those sentenced.

Under Italian law, courts in Italy can probe the murder of Italian citizens overseas. According to the law, the conviction can be appealed against twice before the ruling becomes definitive and the sentences are served.

Prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo said that once all appeals are exhausted and the verdict becomes definitive, Rome would seek to have any sentences served in the elderly defendants’ own countries. Some of the convicts are already in jail or under house arrest in their countries.

Maria Elena Boschi, an Italian government adviser who attended the final hearing, said an official Uruguayan delegation was also present in the session.

“For the Italian government, it was fundamental to have justice,” Boschi said before the ruling was announced.

“This (trial) has a historic importance: for the first time we have connected tragic events that happened in different parts of the world,” she added.

The Vice-President of Uruguay, Raul Sendic said he was disappointed by the sentence but would respect it.

"The Uruguayan government is feeling tranquil because we did everything that had to be done to present proof and witnesses and support the families of the victims," he said.

Amnesty International’s Patrizia Sacco, who followed the trial, refused to comment pending the magistrates’ written verdict but underlined, “It is very difficult to bring to trial people accused of crimes committed a long time ago.”

"Operation Condor" was set up in 1975 in Santiago, the capital of Chile in a meeting chaired by the head of the Chilean chief of intelligence services, Manuel Contreras. Key member countries of Operation were Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia, with Peru and Ecuador occasionally participating.

Thousands of people were kidnapped, tortured, forcibly disappeared and murdered with people often snatched off the streets or taken from their homes. Operations crossed international borders with governments helping each other as their security forces chased dissidents, leftists, union and peasant leaders, nuns and priests, intellectuals and students.
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