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Spain urged to probe alleged baby trafficking

A Spanish association of people searching for lost children or parents filed a petition Thursday with the attorney general to investigate allegations that newborns were stolen from their mothers and sold to other families for decades, including as recently as the mid-1990s.

The petition was signed by around 260 people and filed with Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido by the association, ANADIR. The association's lawyer, Enrique Vila, said he expects an answer from Conde-Pumpido within a month as to whether he will order a probe.

ANADIR's 41-year-old president, Antonio Barroso, says he found out only about three years ago that the parents who raised him were not his biological parents. He said he learned he was sold at birth to another family for 200,000 pesetas, the Spanish currency that preceded the euro. At today's rate that is about €1,200 ($1,600) although at the time it was a worth a lot more.

It is well documented that in the immediate wake of Spain's 1936-39 civil war, babies and children were taken away from women who supported the government, or Republican side, that was defeated by the right wing forces of Gen. Francisco Franco. Investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon has put the figure at 30,000.

But Vila said this politically motivated punishment eventually transformed purely into a moneymaking scheme that lasted well past Spain's return to democracy in 1978, three years after Franco's death, and until well into the 1990s.

Vila said there was more or less a nationwide network behind it, involving doctors, nurses, midwives, nuns and intermediaries that would find children for couples that wanted them.

"There were isolated groups but necessarily they had to know each other. When a woman found parents who wanted to adopt a baby, she knew what clinics to call all around Spain to get that child," Vila told a news conference attended by hundreds of members of the ANADIR association.

One of them, Linda Merrill, a 48-year-old American who was born in Spain, has lived her whole life here and preferred to speak Spanish rather than English, said she gave birth to a son in 1982 in Madrid and was told it was stillborn, but has suspected her whole life the child lived and was sold to another family.

She said clinic officials would not let her see the baby's corpse, and only when her mother-in-law threatened to report the facility to police did staff bring out a wrapped-up baby's body that did not appear to be that of an infant that had just died, Merrill said. She said she gave birth in a section set aside for poor people and thinks her baby boy was given to some woman in another section of the clinic who had in fact lost a baby at birth.

"All my life I have believed that. I know my son is alive," said Merrill, who went on to have two children a few years later.