Argentine priest held in Paraguay in torture case

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — A fugitive priest wanted on charges of torturing political prisoners during Argentina's dictatorship four decades ago has turned himself in to Interpol in Paraguay, where he lives in a Roman Catholic Church home for retired priests.

Aldo Omar Vara, now 80, has been a fugitive since March 2013, when Argentine prosecutors ordered him arrested. The charges surfaced after witnesses in a human rights trial testified that Vara had a key role in the torture of detainees in the 1970s, when he served as an Army priest. That trial ended in 2012 with life sentences for 14 people convicted of violating the rights of prisoners in a secret detention center run by the Fifth Army's "Comando 181" in Bahia Blanca.

That trial determined that multiple prisoners passed through Vara's office on the center's first floor. The priest is charged with kidnapping aggravated by threats and violence, premeditated murder, forced disappearances and torture against more than 100 people during the first four years of the 1976-1983 dictatorship, according to an Interpol notice seeking his arrest and extradition.

Prosecutors said Vara didn't just preach to the torturers like other priests did at the time, but instead guaranteed that prisoners would remain captive by psychologically torturing prisoners inside his office as well as their family members on the outside.

Vara turned himself in Tuesday evening to Interpol in Ciudad del Este as was taken to Paraguay's capital, where a judge on Tuesday ruled that because he is ill and elderly, he can remain in the retirement home for now. The home is run by the Roman Catholic Church's Virgin of Rosario parish in Ciudad del Este, just across the border from Argentina.

Judge Hugo Sosa in Asuncion made no declarations, but Paraguay's extradition treaty with Argentina provides for extraditions within 45 days. The governments of the late Nestor Kirchner and his successor and widow Cristina Fernandez have made a priority of supporting human rights trials for violations committed during the dictatorship, when about 13,000 people were killed or disappeared according to official counts.

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