Two major American scientific associations have accused the Argentine military government of responsibility for "the disappearances, tortures and deaths of many Argentine scientists" and called for a specific accounting in 15 cases, including those of three nuclear physicists.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, human rights committees of the American Association for the advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences declared:
"The Argentine government is sensitive particularly to criticism in the scientific field, where it has been considered preeminent among Latin American nations. It is especially proud of advances in development of nuclear energy.
"Systematic repression of scientists -- or systematic denial of fundamental human rights -- in any society ultimately threatens scientists and scientific freedom everywhere," said the AAS and National Academy.
Both groups have sponsored on-site inquiries in Argentina, but they said all efforts to seek information on individuals have received no response.
Amnesty International, the Nobel Rize-winning human rights organization, has estimated that up to 15,000 persons are unaccounted for in Argentina.
Despite persistent denials by the ruling military that these persons are being held in secret camps, a flurry of such reports surfaced recently with the approaching visit to Argentina of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
However, the minister of interior, Gen. Albano Harguindeguy, declared last week that 1,523 persons whose names previously were made known are the only so-called political prisoners in Argentina.
Harguindeguy noted that the figure was down from 1,616 in July, and that more than 6,000 prisoners had been released since the imposition of a state of siege in 1974.
The general went on to say that law changes were under consideration that would allow families of missing persons to exercise pension rights and to have their relations declared legally dead.
This statement was decried by Americans rights groups, with the church sponsored Washington Office on Latin America declaring: "The insinuation that thousands of the disappeared are dead is abhorrent," and showed official evasion of the responsibility "to facilitate investigations into the actual fate of the disappeared."
The American scientific groups noted that they had submitted the names of scientists to the rights commission and asked that the Argentine authorities provide information to that body when it visits Sept. 6.
Among the missing nuclear physicists listed by the National Academy of Sciences are two who had worked for the Argentine Atomic Energy Commission.