Argentina 'dirty war' suspect starts hunger strike in Spanish jail to protest trial.

A former Argentine military officer accused of genocide, terrorism and torture during his country's "dirty war" has begun a hunger strike to protest his trial scheduled for Jan. 14 in Spain, prison officials said Friday.

Adolfo Scilingo notified officials at the prison of Alcala Meco on the outskirts of Madrid in a letter Wednesday that he would begin a hunger strike "to protest his upcoming trial, nothing to do with his imprisonment," said an official of Spain's Prison Institutions, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

The official said the prison was monitoring his health condition.

Scilingo, who has been in jail here since 1998, will be the first suspect to stand trial in Spain as a result of Judge Baltasar Garzon's investigations into human rights abuses by former military regimes in Argentina and Chile.

He is expected to take the witness stand Jan. 17.

Scilingo says Spain's intention to judge him "is a conflict of jurisdiction that violates fundamental human rights that are protected by the Argentine sovereignty and Constitution," the private news agency Europa Press quoted Scilingo as writing in his letter to prison officials.

Antonio Segura, a lawyer representing the victims of the "dirty war" waged by the 1976-83 dictatorship, said Scilingo was making a final effort to avoid a trial in Spain.

In 1998, Scilingo voluntarily traveled to Spain and told Garzon that he participated in flights in which Argentine dissidents were thrown out of planes. But he recanted two years later after he was indicted.

A landmark Spanish court ruling in 1998 said crimes against humanity, such as genocide, can be tried in Spain even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere.

Garzon's indictments of dozens of Argentine suspects and of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile argued that their systematic campaigns to snuff out leftist dissent amounted to attempted genocide by seeking to eliminate an entire group of people.

During the Argentine military dictatorship, some 13,000 people were killed or disappeared, according to an official Argentine report. Some human rights groups put the number at 30,000.

After Scilingo, witnesses in Madrid and via teleconference from Argentina will testify before a three-person panel at the National Court. The trial is expected to last until mid-February.

Another Argentine suspect, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, was extradited from Mexico to Spain in June, 2003, at Garzon's request and is also fighting efforts to put him on trial here.

[Source: By Mar Roman Associated Press Writer, Associated Press, 10Dec04]

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