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Alfonsin Reported Seeking Amnesty Deal

June 16, 1989|JAMES F. SMITH | Times Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES — President-elect Carlos Saul Menem was quoted Thursday as saying that President Raul Alfonsin asked him to co-sign an amnesty law for military officers accused of killing thousands of people during Argentina's last dictatorship.

Alfonsin's spokesman, Jose Ignacio Lopez, denied that the amnesty issue had been a negotiating point in the talks on bringing forward Menem's inauguration from the scheduled date of Dec. 10. The two major parties agreed Thursday that Menem will be sworn in July 8.

Menem's allegation was certain to embitter Alfonsin and the ruling Radical Civic Union toward Menem's Peronist party, which won a landslide victory in elections on May 14. Although disastrous economic problems forced Alfonsin to step down early, he has retained a measure of public respect for his government's prosecution of senior officers for human rights violations and for restoring the rule of law.

In an interview printed by the financial daily Ambito Financiero, Menem said: "When I met with President Alfonsin in the presidential residence of Olivos on May 31, he showed me a draft of a law he had signed that was a pardon for military officers.

"He asked me that I give my support to the measure by signing it. . . . He told me, 'Don't consult your party--they will never approve it,' " Menem was quoted as saying.

Menem said he is disclosing details of the private meeting with Alfonsin because reports were circulating that the Peronists were pushing Alfonsin for an amnesty to resolve the dispute with the military before Menem assumes office. Actually, Menem said, it was Alfonsin who sought the amnesty.

High-ranking members of Alfonsin's ruling party suggested that Menem wanted to attack Alfonsin because the president had decided unilaterally Monday to step down almost immediately, rather than give Menem more time to arrange his programs.

Opposition to the continuing trials has caused substantial unrest within the military, and it was among the motives for three army rebellions since April, 1987. The jailed leaders of two of the revolts, Col. Mohammed Seineldin and Lt. Col. Aldo Rico, have a substantial following among junior officers.

After each of the first two uprisings, Alfonsin cut back on the number of trials. Now just 18 cases are pending against the most senior officers. But the issue, including the question of how to deal with Rico and Seineldin, is likely to surface during Menem's term.

One ruling party source who declined to be identified said the May 31 meeting did cover turbulence within the military, but not an amnesty for officers accused of human rights offenses. At least 9,000 people disappeared and were presumed murdered in the "dirty war" against leftist subversion and terrorism from 1976 until 1983, when Alfonsin took office.

Ambito Financiero, a respected daily with close links to Menem's inner circle, said the interview was conducted Wednesday at a ranch outside Buenos Aires. Menem's staff was unreachable Thursday to verify the accuracy of the account, but presumably would have challenged it earlier if necessary.

Asked whether the draft law he was shown covered the officers on trial, convicted ex-junta members and the leaders of the rebellions, Menem replied: "I believe so. It was an amnesty for all the officers, all ready with the signature of Alfonsin and space for my signature."

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