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Argentine Officer Convicted In Absentia For Nuns’ Abduction

March 16, 1990

PARIS (AP) _ In what may be the first ruling of its kind, an Argentine naval officer was tried in absentia and convicted today for the abduction and torture of two French nuns killed in Argentina in 1977.

French legal experts said that never before has someone been convicted abroad for crimes committed in his own country for which he has been granted amnesty.

On trial was Capt. Alfredo Astiz, 40, commander of a fleet of minesweepers in Argentina. Known to human rights groups as ″the angel of death,″ he was sentenced to life in prison after a hearing in a Paris criminal court that lasted less than four hours.

In 1987, seeking to consolidate civilian rule in Argentina, President Raoul Alfonsin granted amnesty to all junior officers, including Astiz, for human rights violations committed during the reign of a military junta.

The nuns’ relatives, and their lawyers, do not expect Argentina to extradite Astiz. But they said a conviction would provide encouragement for international human rights groups and possibly prompt other countries to recognize an international arrest warrant that would, in effect, make Astiz a prisoner of his own country.

The bodies of the two Roman Catholic nuns - Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet -were found on a beach near Buenos Aires two months after they were abducted in December 1977.

Astiz, who had been captain of a navy frigate, was assigned at the time to infiltrate organizations which had taken up the cause of victims of the junta’s repression.

According to papers filed in the French court, Astiz ordered the abduction of the nuns, who had befriended anti-government activists. He later was implicated by an activist who escaped from custody.

Lawyers representing the nuns’ families say they hold Astiz responsible for torture which the two women allegedly underwent shortly after abduction.

In 1978, while French authorities were seeking information about the nuns’ deaths, Astiz served briefly with the Argentine Embassy in Paris under an assumed name.

The nuns’ families filed charges against Astiz in 1982, and an arrest warrant was issued. France then unsuccessfully sought his extradition from Britain, where he had been taken as a prisoner after his capture during the Falkland Islands war.

He was indicted in Argentina for the January 1977 arrest and disappearance of Swedish teen-ager Dagmar Hagelin, but freed from prosecution in December 1986 by a federal court that invoked the statute of limitations.

Alice Doman, 40 at the time of her death, was sent to Argentina in 1967, working for a while in a Beunos Aires shantytown and later in an impoverished northern village before returning to the capital in 1976. She was abducted while leaving a church following a meeting with parents of missing activists.

Leonie Duquet, 61 at the time of her death, had worked in Argentina since shortly after World War II. Her brother, Eribert, is a Roman Catholic priest who was posted in San Francisco at the time of her abduction.