A Rome court has convicted eight former South American political and military leaders in the disappearance and deaths of 23 people of Italian origin during the crackdown on leftists and intellectuals by the region's military dictatorships.

Another 19 people were absolved in the Italian prosecution of "Operation Condor," the secret alliance of South American dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s in which military leaders cooperated in persecuting and killing one another's dissidents.

Among those convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison were former Bolivian President Luis García Meza Tejada, former Peruvian President Francisco Morales Bermúdez, two retired Chilean army officials and a Uruguayan politician.

Prosecutor Gianluca Capaldo says once appeals are exhausted, Italy would seek to have any sentences served in the elderly defendants' home countries, where some already are jailed.