Operation Condor victims relatives
Relatives react to the sentence read by the judges of the Third Court of Rome during the trial of South American military officers and civilians accused of collaborating in the forced disappearances and murder of Italian nationals, in a US-backed regional plan dubbed 'Operation Condor ', from the maximum security room of the Rebibbia prison in Rome on January 17, 2017FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

A court in Rome has ordered life sentences for eight South American ex-political and military leaders for the murder 23 Italian citizens in Operation Condor, an alleged conspiracy in which dictators for South America searched and killed dissidents during the 1970s and 80s.

The individuals, who were convicted in absentia, include ex-presidents of Bolivia and Peru, and Uruguay's former foreign minister. The trial was going on for more than two years.

Former president of Bolivia, Luis Garcia, who is now 87 and is serving a 30-year jail sentence in La Paz for the crimes committed while he was in power.

Prosecutor Tiziana Cugini said after the ruling "It's clear that this conviction confirms that Operation Condor existed and that it was a criminal conspiracy. It's very significant, especially given that heads of state from the time were convicted."

Remigio Morales, the son of Francisco Morlaes – former Peruvian President – denied any connection between his father and the murders. Similarly, Frank Campero – Garcia's lawyer – said that Garcia was not notified of any trial in Italy and would appeal the judgement.

Under Italian law, first-degree conviction could be appealed twice before the ruling is confirmed and sentences are served. If the sentences are confirmed, Italy could ask for their extradition.

Raul Sendic, the Vice-President of Uruguay said that he was disappointed by the judgement but he would respect it.

"The Uruguayan government is feeling tranquil because we did everything that had to be done to present proof and witnesses and support the families of the victims."

According to reports, Operation Condor began in 1975 in Santiago, Chile and important members of this operation include Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru with Ecuador participating occasionally.

Under the operation countries helped each other with intelligence while their forces hunted down and killed left-wing dissidents, union leaders, nuns and priests, students and intellectuals.