The mixture of stiff sentences and acquittals handed down in the trial of nine former military leaders promises to keep the divisive human rights issue alive in Argentina, human rights activists say. Top-level sources in the government, speaking before Monday's sentencing, said President Ra'ul Alfons'in hoped to put the issue to rest with the Federal Appeals Court ruling.
But human rights activist Emilio Mignone said: ``This ruling will not close the chapter on investigations. It will do just the opposite -- prolong them indefinitely.''
The Federal Appeals Court convicted five former military leaders of using criminal methods in a campaign against leftist guerrillas during military rule from 1976 to 1983 in which thousands of people were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by security forces.
The sentences ranged from life terms for former President Jorge Videla and retired Adm. Emilio Massera to acquittals for four others, including the junta headed by former President Leopoldo Galtieri who led Argentina to defeat in the 1982 conflict with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
Top-level court sources said they expected nobody would be left satisfied by the verdicts. But they said it was a vital step toward subordinating the armed forces to civilian rule after 50 years of political instability.
Several leading politicians of both the ruling Radical Party and the opposition Peronists said the court ruling, while not totally satisfying popular opinion, would help boost democracy.
Lawyers for Videla and Massera said they would file appeals to the Supreme Court within 10 days to question the ruling's constitutional validity. Prosecutor Julio Strassera also said he would study the possibility of filing an appeal.
A broad range of human rights groups say they will push for the punishment of all military officials who have not been brought to trial for crimes they are alleged to have committed under military rule. Some 3,000 people staged a spontaneous protest against the verdicts in Buenos Aires Monday night.
Luis Zamora, head of the left-wing Movement to Socialism Party, criticized the four year and six month sentence given to retired Brig. Orlando Agosti, who led the 1976 military coup with Massera and Videla.
``He has been punished with a sentence which is less than one that could be given to a person who stole a billfold,'' Mr. Zamora said.
Miguel Angel Buero, lawyer for retired Adm. Jorge Anaya who was acquitted, said the court's decision showed that the former Navy commander ``had been included [in the trial] for political reasons.''
Shortly before the verdicts were announced the government lifted a state of siege imposed on Oct. 25 to counter a series of bombings and threats of violence.
Military sources described the attacks as the work of Army hard-liners trying to force the removal of Army Chief of Staff Hector Rios Erenu for allowing the trials to go ahead.