In a nationwide referendum, Uruguayans voted to retain an amnesty for soldiers and police accused of torture and murder during 12 years of military rule that ended in 1985, official returns showed Monday.

The outcome of Sunday's vote was a victory for President Julio M. Sanguinetti on an issue that had divided the nation for more than two years.He had predicted trouble if the amnesty, approved in 1986 after rumblings in the barracks, were rejected.

About 180 soldiers and police had been accused of crimes during the dictatorship's war against leftist rebels. Thousands of suspected leftist sympathizers were arrested and tortured, 150 were killed and 200 were never seen again.