Dutch pilot held over Argentine "death flights"

AMSTERDAM Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:07am BST

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Spanish authorities have arrested a pilot for Dutch airline transavia.com on charges he flew "death flights" for Argentina's former military rulers, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday. The pilot, who holds Dutch and Argentine passports, was arrested on Tuesday night at the request of Argentina's government and is currently being detained, the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Transavia, owned by Air France-KLM, confirmed the arrest in the Spanish city of Valencia and said the pilot had flown there on Tuesday.

She declined to give his name or age or say how long he had worked for the airline, but said they had been in contact with him since the arrest.

Spanish authorities were not immediately available to comment.

An Argentine government report says more than 11,000 people died or disappeared during the so-called "Dirty War," a crackdown on leftists and other opponents of the military regime that ruled the South American country from 1976 to 1983.

Rights groups claim the number is closer to 30,000.

In 2005, Argentina's Supreme Court, at the urging of then-President Nestor Kirchner, struck down two amnesty laws that shielded hundreds of former officers from charges of human rights abuses during the dictatorship.

Courts have since issued a handful of severe prison sentences for members of the security forces -- many now elderly -- who were convicted of kidnapping, torturing and killing dissidents.

Human rights groups have alleged that one of the regime's tactics was the use of so-called "death flights," where people were pushed out of planes or helicopters into rivers or the Atlantic Ocean to drown.

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