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Argentina ex-dictator takes secrets to the grave

The front pages of major newspapers in Argentina reflect the news of the death of Jorge Rafael Videla, May 18, 2013
The front pages of major newspapers in Argentina reflect the news of the death of former Argentine dictator (1976-81) Jorge Rafael Videla, in Buenos Aires, on May 18, 2013. Videla will be buried without revealing what happened to the tens of thousands who

Late Argentine dictator General Jorge Videla will be buried without revealing what happened to the tens of thousands who "disappeared" during his rule, rights groups said Saturday.

Videla, 87, died Friday of natural causes in Marcos Paz prison, where he was serving two consecutive life sentences plus 50 years for massive rights abuses, including stealing the babies of female prisoners.

His body is currently in the judicial morgue in Buenos Aires, awaiting autopsy. It is not clear when or where he will be buried.

The ex-dictator, who ruled at the height of the Latin American country's "Dirty War" against leftist activists, launched a ferocious crackdown when he took power in 1976. He left office in 1981.

As many as 30,000 people were kidnapped and "disappeared" by the military, and suspected regime opponents were swept into secret prisons, tortured and murdered.

In his last public appearance, just days before his death, the unrepentant Videla told a court that his subordinates acted under his orders and assumed "full military responsibility for the actions of the army in the war against terrorism."

Rights groups across Argentina's political spectrum have condemned the former dictator, lamenting that he died without revealing what he knew about the missing people and stolen children.

"Mothers have a right to recover the bodies of their children," said activist Paula Maroni, of the group CHILDREN of the Missing.

She said Videla's death should serve as a "call to break the pact of secrecy" and "tell the truth."

Nora Cortinas of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo said dictators like Videla "die and take with them the most important secrets in history."

But former judge Leon Arslanian, who was involved in Videla's prosecution in 1985, said the information could still be out there.

"The armed forces, when they organized this, they did it in a very planned way," Arslanian told Radio Mitre.

"Every military action that was carried out... of course there were records."

However, none of the prosecuted ex-soldiers have yet revealed information about what happened to the missing -- including Videla, who showed little remorse for the systematic abuses.

The wiry officer with a brush mustache, an intense gaze and a passionate hatred of communism recently admitted in a prison interview with journalist Ceferino Reato that his regime had wiped out "7,000 or 8,000 people who had to die to win the war against subversion."

"So as not to provoke protests inside and outside the country, the decision was reached that these people should be disappeared," Videla said, according to Reato in his book "Final Disposition."

Videla later said he had been misquoted, but the journalist insists the general reviewed his handwritten notes and approved them before publication.

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