BUENOS AIRES, JAN. 18 -- A dissident ex-officer led his forces in combat against government troops today, then surrendered after tanks and 2,000 infantrymen loyal to the senior command converged on the Army garrison he had occupied in northern Argentina.
The brief but tense battle saw Argentine military units firing on each other for the first time in a quarter-century. The military rift seemed to deepen as other revolts erupted at several military facilities around the country and rebel Air Force commandos made a short-lived effort to close down one of two major airports in the capital.
But following the unconditional surrender of ex-lieutenant colonel Aldo Rico this afternoon, and the detention of many of those who had joined with him, officials reported all other rebellions crushed and calm restored in all military units.
In contrast to a similar rebellion led by Rico last April, the civilian administration of Raul Alfonsin showed no sign of having negotiated to end the confrontation and was expected to deal harshly with the mutineers.
The swift success that official troops had in defeating the uprisings was seen as strengthening the authority of the Army's senior commanders, who have sought for months to isolate rebellious factions and reassert discipline in the ranks.
But analysts also said the fact of the revolts will force the government to reassess its military policy, pushing it to be firmer in punishing rebel leaders while more responsive to demands, widely shared in the ranks, for more funding and a respectful new definition of the role which the armed forces are to play in Argentina's democracy, now four years old.
Alfonsin, speaking to reporters, said "this lamentable episode" would strengthen the democracy. He added that it would "provide the Army with an opportunity to reorganize" and thus enable it to work more united with others in the society.
Rico gave up to the commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade at the rebel base in Monte Caseros, a town of 18,000 on the border with Uruguay and Brazil. The 44-year-old commando had fled there over the weekend after a military judge ordered his return from house arrest to detention at a military facility on charges pending from the uprising he directed last Easter weekend.
Then as now, the cashiered officer, noted for his tinted spectacles, green beret and medal-winning acts in the 1982 Falklands War against Britain, was demanding the ouster of senior Army officers and an end to trials of armed forces personnel for crimes in the antiguerrilla campaign of the 1970s.
As Rico's troops dug in this morning around Monte Caseros and as rain fell, a large force loyal to the Army's high command pushed toward the town in armored vehicles, some pulling heavy artillery.
The rebels, estimated to number from 100 to 250, fired mortars but soon retreated. They detonated explosives planted on one of several bridges across a stream three miles from their garrison, slowing the advance of the progovernment forces.
Rico offered to surrender twice. The first time came early in the afternoon, when he asked to be allowed until 6 p.m. to do so. The government refused, insisting on unconditional surrender.
He finally laid down his arms at 5:30 p.m., wearing a commando uniform and beret. A helicopter carried him to the headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Brigade in nearly Curuzu Cuatia. He was due to be flown to the capital tonight.
In a preliminary casualty count, military officials reported three injured, all among progovernment forces, but indicated there could be more. The most seriously wounded were a lieutenant and sergeant, whose truck hit an antitank mine planted by the rebels about nine miles northeast of Monte Caseros.
Three rebel commandos dressed in civilian clothes and operating behind the lines later were arrested and accused of acting as saboteurs.
The injuries marked the first time Argentine troops had waged war on each other since Army factions, tagged the "reds" and the "blues," fought briefly in 1962 over whether to hold direct presidential elections.
Massing government troops to quell other isolated rebellions today, Army units subdued the 19th Infantry Regiment (equivalent to a U.S. Army company, or about 200 Soldiers) in western Tucuman Province and put down a resurgent protest -- after having reported the garrison under control yesterday -- at the powerful 35th Mechanized Infantry Regiment in Santa Cruz Province.
In addition, the Army arrested nine officers at the 161st Air Defense Group in San Luis Province and 10 at the 22nd Mountain Infantry Regiment in San Juan Province.
In Buenos Aires, about 20 uniformed Air Force commandos carrying automatic rifles seized one side of a terminal at the capital's downtown airport, which services domestic flights. Taking the airport manager hostage, they closed the facility to incoming traffic.
But the mutineers were routed after several hours by national border guards who arrested some of the rebels at gunpoint. The airport reopened in the afternoon, but domestic flights continued to land at the international airport of Ezeiza, where security had been tightened.
The scattered rebel actions reflected the commando-style training of their leaders and seemed specially designed to keep the government off balance while spreading a sense of alarm and chaos.
But the government sought to avoid an impression of panic by distancing itself from the crisis and appearing to leave the suppression of the rebellions in the hands of the Army chief-of-staff, Gen. Jose Dante Caridi, and other senior commanders.
In contrast, moreover, with last Easter's rebellion, the government refrained from summoning millions of citizens into the streets to show support for democracy.
In Monte Caseros yesterday, residents lined up in front of the rebels' stronghold to jeer Rico and his men, their faces smeared with black combat paint. Today, the townspeople cheered as victorious government forces rolled into the plaza.
Although all political parties joined in condemning the revolts, the episode is certain to make the government's military policy a major issue in next year's race for the presidency.
Carlos Menem, a prominent Peronist governor and presidential aspirant, signaled this today. While rejecting the revolts as "the product of a group nostalgic for authoritarianism," he suggested that Alfonsin's administration shared some of the blame, accusing it of having failed to deal decisively and courageously with tensions in the armed forces.