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2 Ex-Argentine Police Officials Sentenced

March 30, 2004 GMT

LA PLATA, Argentina (AP) _ Two former police officials were convicted Monday and sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of changing the identity of a girl born to dissidents during the past dictatorship.

The ruling against Miguel Etchecolatz and Dr. Jorge Berges marked the first conviction in cases led by prosecutors probing a series of adoptions dating to the ``Dirty War″ era.

Officials are investigating whether the past military junta had a systematic plan for the illicit adoption of more than 200 children born during the military’s 1976-83 crackdown against leftists and political opponents.

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Some 13,000 people are reported as missing or dead during the dictatorship. Human rights groups say the figure is closer to 30,000.

Etchecolatz and Berges were found guilty in a case involving the daughter of a Uruguayan couple detained in December 1977 by security forces.

Prosecutors and witnesses contend the child was born days after the couple was seized and the true identity of the baby switched. The parents later disappeared after last being reported seen at a Buenos Aires detention center.

The two former officials were accused by prosecutors of forging the girl’s identity documents in order to facilitate her adoption.

Dozens of human rights groups cheered the decision after awaiting the verdict outside the courthouse in La Plata, a provincial capital 35 miles southeast of Buenos Aires. Pictures of the disappeared were hung outside the courthouse.

Many of the junta’s top leaders and other officers are now under house arrest on charges of kidnapping children belonging to mothers who ``disappeared″ during the military’s rule.

Former Gen. Jorge Videla, the regime’s first president, and former navy chief Adm. Emilio Massera, are among those under investigation.