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Prisoners Drowned In Atlantic, Says Retired Navy Officer

March 3, 1995 GMT

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ More than 2,000 political prisoners were thrown alive from navy aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean during the 1976-83 ``Dirty War,″ a retired naval officer has charged.

The victims, most of them leftists considered subversive by the former military dictatorship, were drugged and tossed naked into the sea off Argentina’s coast, retired Lt. Cmdr Adolfo Francisco Scilingo said in an interview published Friday in the newspaper Pagina 12.

His allegations reopen what human rights groups call the darkest chapter in modern Argentine history.

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At least 9,000 people disappeared during the Dirty War when a repressive rightist regime waged a bloody campaign against leftists and political dissidents.

Although many Argentines have long believed accounts of prisoners being killed in such a manner, Scilingo’s comments marked the first time a military officer publicly acknowledged such acts.

``The pact of silence has been broken,″ said Emilio Fermin Mignone, a leading activist whose daughter disappeared in 1976.

Army Gen. Mario Candido Diaz, head of the nation’s joint chiefs of staff, said the accusations ``did not merit a reply.″ He charged Scilongo had ``lost all his qualities as an officer and a gentleman.″

The general did not address the truthfulness of the allegations, which Scilingo called ``a macabre but true story that nobody can deny.″

``Prisoners were given two sedative injections and stripped naked,″ Scilingo said. ``Once out at sea, the commander would give the order and we would throw them one by one out of the aircraft.″

President Carlos Menem, who in 1991 pardoned high-ranking officers imprisoned for human rights abuse in the Dirty War, called Scilingo ``a crook,″ an apparent reference to charges of fraud and car theft he has faced since retirement.

Scilingo, who admitted to being on two of the flights, said they occurred each Wednesday between 1976 and 1977. He said as many as 20 prisoners were thrown into the ocean every time.

The whereabouts of many Dirty War victims’ bodies remains a mystery. Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children were among those killed, march weekly to demand a government investigation.

``This is a step in the right direction,″ said Ebel Petrini of the mothers’ group. ``These murderers must bare their souls, if they have one.″

Scilingo said he told his story ``for the good of the country.″

``The worst thing for a parent is to know a child has disappeared,″ he said. ``And this is the fault of the Armed Forces.″