Argentine calls for mending civil-military rift

In a move seen as a further concession to rebellious military officers, Argentine leader Ra'ul Alfons'in yesterday named a new Army chief. When rebel Col. Mohamed Ali Seineldin laid down his arms three weeks ago, sympathizers told reporters he had done so on the understanding that Gen. Jos'e Dante Caridi would resign by Christmas.

President Alfons'in named Gen. Fransico Gassoni as new head of the Army only minutes after addressing a special session of Congress, in which he called on Argentines to set aside their memories of military dictatorship, and join with the armed forces to build a new future.

General Caridi's resignation marks only the most recent in a series of steps that have met the rebels' demands. Though the government continues to insist that it struck no deal to persuade Colonel Seineldin to end his mutiny, subsequent events have made it clear that the President at least acquiesced in a pact the colonel reached with the Army chief of staff.

The first sign came within days of the Dec. 5 end of the rebellion, when the the armed forces were granted a 20 percent wage rise, and a $100 lump sum payment. This was considerably more than the 12 percent rise earlier offered.

But Alfons'in was firm as he told Congress that he would not concede the rebels' demand - shared by the entire officer corps, according to Caridi - for an end to the trials of officers charged with human-rights offenses and an amnesty for those sentenced.

Trying those allegations, for rights abuses during military rule in the 1970s, ``is an essential task'' the President said. These words, however, did not convince critics.

``The President is not speaking the truth,'' said Maria de Rosario Serruti, leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group representing relatives of thousands of ``disappeared'' civilians. After a military revolt in 1987, Ms. Serruti recalled, Alfons'in ``said he would let justice take its course, and a month later he sent Congress the `due obedience law.''' That law exempted almost all officers from rights trials.

Alfons'in urged Argentines to exercise ``self-criticism and moral cleansing.'' He called for a ``gigantic cultural reform'' to renew relations between civilian society and the military.

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