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Argentina leader announces controversial armed forces reform

In this photo released by Argentina's presidential press office, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, front right, walks with Defense Minister Oscar Raul Aguad at a military headquarters on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 23, 2018. (Argentina's presidential press office via AP)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- In a radical reform of Argentina's defense doctrine, President Mauricio Macri said Monday he is removing a ban on military involvement in fighting crime, terrorist threats and other internal security issues.

Macri said he will modify a 2006 decree that limited the armed forces to defense against attacks by another country.

"It's important that they can collaborate in internal security, mainly by providing logistic support in the border zones," he said at a public act held at a military base.

"We need armed forces that are capable of facing the challenges of the 21st century, but we have an outdated defense system, the product of years of underinvestment and the absence of a long-term policy."

Argentina's current defense doctrine was adopted with the country's 1976-1983 military dictatorship in mind. Human rights groups estimate up to 30,000 people were kidnapped, tortured or killed during that period.

Human rights groups immediately criticized the decision, saying it could authorize military espionage, lead to repression and increase violence.

"Involving the armed forces in security issues puts at risk the civil government and human rights ... we have to reject this reform and defend the strict separation between defense and security," said the Buenos Aires-based Center for Legal and Social Studies.

Former Defense Minister Agustin Rossi said separating national defense from internal security has been a state policy since 1983 and should remain unchanged.

"Involving the armed forces in drug trafficking issues is illegal. In countries like Colombia, Brazil and Mexico this failed, and is being carefully examined now," said Rossi, who was in the left-of-center administration of President Cristina Fernandez, who preceded the conservative Macri.

The current defense minister, Oscar Aguad, defended the plan, saying the change seeks only to give logistical support to security forces, including those fighting drug trafficking in the northern border region with Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.

"We're trying to help them dissuade transnational groups from drug trafficking and terrorism to come into Argentina. They must block them from entering our territory," Aguad said.

For now, the government plans to issue the changes through a decree instead of a bill sent to Congress.

"We know that this transformation won't be easy," Macri said. "Profound changes are never easy. But this is the first step to build the modern, professional and equipped armed forces that Argentina needs."

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