October 07, 1997

Argentine ``dirty war'' witness admits role in Spain

MADRID, Spain (Reuter) - A former Argentine naval officer told a Spanish court Tuesday of his involvement in so-called ``death flights'' in the 1970s where prisoners were thrown alive to the sea from aircraft.

Adolfo Scilingo, who had arrived in Madrid Monday, testified on his role in the Argentine ``dirty war'' before Spanish High Court Judge Baltasar Garzon, who is investigating the deaths of around 300 Spanish citizens during Argentina's 1976-83 dictatorship.

Garzon ordered that Scilingo be detained after the session in a move which lawyers said was meant to ensure his continued testimony Wednesday.

Scilingo, a key witness in Garzon's investigation, is also expected to name colleagues who also participated in the killings.

The so-called ``death flights'' were carried out off the coast of Buenos Aires in the late 1970s.

Scilingo flew to Madrid of his own accord to help Garzon in his investigation and was kept under police guard at an undisclosed destination in the capital until Tuesday.

Scilingo has been the target of a number of threats and last month his face was slashed by unknown attackers who told him not to testify. The attackers carved the initials of three journalists to whom he had given details about the killings into his face.

Scilingo is the only one of over 100 Argentine ``dirty war'' figures who agreed to cooperate in Garzon's investigation.

The ex-naval officer's 1995 televised confession of his involvement in the deaths of hundreds of suspected leftists during Argentina's dictatorship shamed the Argentine government into making public apologies for the killings.

Human rights groups say around 30,000 people disappeared during the period. The Argentine government has accounted for almost 15,000.