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Argentina arrests ex-officer wanted in France for 1976 disappearance

Taty Almeida, one of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, in front of pictures of people who disappeared under the dictatorship in Buenos Aires AFP

A retired Argentine military officer, accused of torture and murder under the military dictatorship on the 1970s and 80s, has been arrested in a Buenos Aires hospital. Jose Osvaldo "Balita" Ribeiro is wanted in France over the disappearance of a French-Chilean dual national.

The retired colonel, who has been diagnosed with senile dementia, remains in hospital under police guard, medical sources say.

He was tried in absentia in France in 2010 and sentenced to 35 years in prison in connection with the disappearance of Jean-Yves Claudet.

France issued an extradition request for Ribeiro in 2001 but the Argentine government, which at the time rejected all extradition requests relating to the period of military dictatorship, refused to comply.

The extradition order is being revived today, according to Sophie Thonon-Wesfreid, a lawyer representing the families of French citizens who disappeared at the time.

Operation Condor

Ribeiro was second-in-command in Battalion 601, an army unit blamed for the disappearance and probable deaths of hundreds of opposition figures as part of Operation Condor, the US-backed anti-communist operation that led to the detention, torture and murder of thousands of people in a number of Latin American countries.

He was in charge of coordinating with Chile's Dina secret service to arrrest refugees from Augusto Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship, according to Thonon-Wesfried.

French judge Roger Leloire accused Ribeiro of plotting with Chilean Dina agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel to kidnap Claudet on 31 October 1976.

From 1980 to 1985 Ribeiro trained right-wing "Contra" paramilitaries fighting El Salvador's Sandanista government.

Since Nestor Kirchner's 2003-2007 government repealed amnesty laws more than 1,000 officials, military officers or agents of the dictatorship have been jailed by Argentine courts.