September 19, 2007 / 1:09 AM / 12 years ago

Argentines march one year after disappearance

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Thousands of Argentines rallied outside the government palace on Tuesday calling for answers one year after the disappearance of a key witness in a trial of a human rights criminal from the 1976-1983 military regime.

A picture of Jorge Julio Lopez (C), who's been missing for one year, is seen at the beginning of a march to mark the first anniversary of his disappearance in front of Argentina's Congress in Buenos Aires September 18, 2007. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Jorge Julio Lopez, a retired mason, disappeared on September 18, 2006, days after testifying he was tortured by former police commissioner Miguel Etchecolatz.

Etchecolatz was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during Argentina’s “dirty war,” when thousands of leftists and dissidents were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

“It makes us so angry. It’s so painful that a year has gone by since Julio disappeared. It’s unbelievable that the government has done absolutely nothing to bring him back alive, for a whole year,” Enrique Fuckman, who was also imprisoned by the military regime, told Reuters during the peaceful demonstration.

Pictures of Lopez, 77 when he disappeared, were posted nationwide. A reward was offered, and the government purged the Buenos Aires provincial police force, where Etchecolatz had served and which was notorious for past human rights abuses.

But investigators did not turn up a trace of the missing man.

“We haven’t had information for a year, nothing,” Ruben Lopez, one of Julio Lopez’s son, told reporters on Tuesday outside his home. He said he could not rule out that his father had died.

During the military regime, 11,000 people disappeared or died in systematic state repression, according to an official commission’s report. Human rights groups say the total was around 30,000.

Under the 4-year-old government of President Nestor Kirchner, courts have revived human rights trials against former members of the military and police for decades old abuses.

Lopez’s disappearance sent a collective shiver down Argentina’s spine. Many people believe he was kidnapped or killed to intimidate potential witnesses in human rights trials.

“We’re living in democracy and my old man is still disappeared. As a country, we can’t allow this,” his son said.

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