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Pope Francis was "not complicit" with Argentina's brutal military dictatorship and pursued "silent diplomacy", Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel said on Thursday after meeting with Latin America's first pontiff.
"He was not complicit with the dictatorship, he did not collaborate," Perez Esquivel told reporters, following criticism of the pope for not speaking out against the 1976-1983 regime when he was head of the Jesuit order in Argentina.
"He preferred a silent diplomacy, enquiring about the disappeared and the prisoners," said Perez Esquivel, a prominent human rights activist who campaigned against the Argentine junta and won the Nobel Prize in 1980.
"The pope had nothing to do with the dictatorship," he added, saying the justice system had found "no proof" of collaboration.
"In the Argentinian Catholic hierarchy there were some bishops complicit with the dictatorship but Bergoglio was not one of them," he said, referring to Francis's name before he became pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Perez Esquivel said he and the pope had discussed human rights and that the pontiff had called for "truth, justice and compensation".
He said the meeting had been "very emotional".
The Vatican last week rejected claims that the pope failed to do enough to protect two priests kidnapped and tortured during Argentina's "Dirty War" in which 30,000 people were killed or disappeared.
Leftist critics in Argentina have accused him of being responsible for the arrest of two young Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken to a notorious torture centre run by the rightwing junta.
The Vatican said the "defamatory" and "anti-clerical" claims were aimed at discrediting the Church, while the president of Argentina's Supreme Court also stressed that there has never been any evidence or charge against Bergoglio.
Bergoglio himself has always denied any involvement in the case, and even says he intervened with the head of the junta, Jorge Videla, to beg for the Jesuits to be freed. The two priests were released after five months.
Jalics, who now lives in Germany, said in a statement Wednesday that he and Yorio were not reported by Bergoglio.
"It is false to claim that our arrest was provoked by Father Bergoglio," he said.