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Panama urges U.S. to extradite former military leader
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16:19, July 20, 2007

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Panama has asked the United States to extradite the country's former military leader Manuel Antonio Noriega back to Panama for trial, Vice President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro said on Thursday.

The Panamanian government will respect whatever the U.S. courts decide, but Panama wants Noriega returned home to serve jail term for murder when he is released from a U.S. prison in September, Navarro said.

"We have maintained our request for extradition and will be keeping abreast of the process. This is a legitimate and sovereign decision of the United States," he added.

The vice president also denied the accusation of a secret deal to have Noriega extradited to France so that President Martin Torrijos could avoid putting a member of his party, the Democratic Revolutionary Party, into jail.

Noriega was captured by U.S. forces in a 1989 invasion of Panama, and later he was sentenced to 40 years in jail on multiple charges of drug trafficking and racketeering. However, his 40-year jail term has been commuted to 17 years owing to good behavior and his poor health and the 71-year-old former leader is scheduled to be released on Sept. 9.

But it is still not clear where he will be sent after being released. Some media reports said France wants him extradited to serve a 10-year jail term there for laundering money through French banks. Noriega's lawyer Julio Berrios, however, insisted that he should be sent back to Panama in the first place.

"It is not up to the U.S. government. Our government must insist and push for Panamanian jurisdiction, so that Noriega can return home and face pending charges," Berrios said.

Noriega was Panama's de facto leader until U.S. troops toppled him in the 1989 invasion.

Source: Xinhua



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