Argentina's former dictator Leopoldo Galtieri, whose military regime brutally oppressed opponents in the 1980s and invaded the Falkland Islands, died today. He was 76.

Galtieri died in the Central Military Hospital where he was being treated for pancreatic cancer and vascular complications, said lieutenant colonel Alicia Amato, head of the hospital's medical guard.

The aging former general had been under house arrest on charges related to the abductions and presumed killings of 19 leftist members of the Montoneros movement during his 1976-1983 military rule, which ended after the ill-fated 1982 Argentine invasion of the British-ruled Falklands, known here as the Malvinas.

Nineteen Montoneros - a leftist faction of the Justicialist (Peronist) Party - were abducted in 1980 after they returned to their homeland from exile to launch a "strategic counteroffensive" against the conservative military dictatorship.

Argentina's military dictatorship is blamed for the abductions and presumed deaths of between 11,000 and 30,000 people during what has become known as the "dirty war" against political opponents.

Galtieri's arrest in July 2002 was his first on human rights charges.

He had been convicted in 1986 for incompetence in the Falklands War, but pardoned in 1989 by then-president Carlos Menem.

His move to invade the Falklands in 1982 led to a 74-day war that painfully extended the rule of the dictators and caused the deaths of 652 Argentines and 255 British troops before the ill-matched Argentine forces surrendered.