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Alfons'in challenged by Argentine military rebellion

The government yesterday attempted to crush an Army rebellion that analysts said threatened Argentina's four-year-old democracy. Government troops attacked the rebel base at Monte Caseros in northern Argentina, which cashiered Lt. Col. Aldo Rico had taken over Saturday.

[Reuter reported that President Ra'ul Alfons'in told French President Francois Mitterrand by phone yesterday that Colonel Rico had surrendered. The report could not be verified at press time.]

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Government troops were also preparing to attack the rebels' other stronghold in the western city ofTucuman.

Earlier Monday, troops loyal to the government put down a rebellion at the airport in downtown Buenos Aires and quelled a one-day-old mutiny at an Army base in San Luis in western Argentina. On Sunday, government troops put down brief uprisings in bases in the southern Argentine towns of Las Lajas and Ros Penteck.

The government action came amid analysts' warnings that President Alfons'in had to defeat the rebels soon or face further insurrections. ``The government has to act sufficiently quickly to show that its authority isn't eroded,'' said a European diplomat. ``The longer this goes on, the stronger Rico will get.''

Mr. Alfons'in had warned the rebels that he would call out the Army, Air Force, and Navy to crush the insurrections. The President also called his Cabinet into emergency session yesterday as reports came in of the first casualties in the uprising. Government sources said it was possible Alfons'in would declare a state of siege throughout the country.

Some 2,000 loyalist troops yesterday attacked Monte Caseros, the small town in northern Argentina taken over by Rico and 100 to 200 heavily armed soldiers. Heavy rains had hampered the government attack.

That the government has been able to count on loyal troops indicates that Rico has less support than when he lead a similar rebellion last April.

Alfons'in could not get troops to move against Rico then, which forced him to agree to the Colonel's demands that he sack then-Army chief of staff Gen. H'ector Rios Ereu and grant amnesty to dozens of midranking officers accused of human rights abuses during the military's 1976-83 rule when an estimated 9,000 Argentines ``disappeared.''

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Rico is demanding the ouster of Army chief of staff Gen. Jos'e Caridi. Rico is angry that General Caridi did not back his additional demands that the government free several generals imprisoned for human rights crimes and praise the Army's conduct during its war against suspected leftist subversives.

Rico has said he wouldn't surrender, and prepared to repel any possible attacks by digging trenches and positioning mortars, machine guns, and a cannon on roads to Monte Casero, 400 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Yesterday, Rico also reportedly blew up one of the bridges leading to Monte Caseros.

Oscar Oszlak, a political analyst and outside adviser to the president, said Alfons'in cannot give in to Rico again. ``The authority of the armed forces and the Constitution is at stake,'' he said.

The latest crisis was triggered Friday when Caride sought to place Rico under barracks arrest. But when Army troops arrived at the Buenos Aires country club where Rico had been under house arrest since Dec. 30, he had vanished. Rico turned up Saturday night at the 4th infantry regiment in Monte Caseros.

The military rebellion seems to have reinforced the already antagonistic relationship between Argentine civilians and members of the armed forces. The country's political parties, major newspapers, and the powerful labor federation have sharply repudiated Rico and his backers.

The military, which has carried out four coups in the past 42 years, has been in disgrace since it turned over power to a civilian leader in 1983. During its rule the economy worsened, thousands of citizens disappeared, and the military was decisively beaten by Great Britain in the 1982 Falkland's war. -30-{et

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