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Noriega Calls for Removal of U.S. Southern Command Base

February 09, 1988|From Times Wire Services

PANAMA CITY — Panama's strongman, Gen. Manuel A. Noriega, called Monday for the U.S. Southern Command to withdraw from Panama.

The Southern Command oversees 10,000 soldiers in Panama, protects the Canal Zone and directs all U.S. military activity in South and Central America.

In a television speech, Noriega said U.S. charges that he was involved in drug trafficking were politically motivated, and he backed a Panama Defense Forces call to oust the U.S. regional military headquarters. He was indicted Friday by federal grand juries in Miami and Tampa, Fla., on charges of helping Colombian cocaine traffickers in return for payoffs in the millions of dollars.

Defense Forces officers, in a show of support for their commander, asked President Eric A. Delvalle to expel the Southern Command. Delvalle is considered a figurehead, with Noriega holding true power.

"We ask . . . the withdrawal of the Southern Command from our territory, since its presence is not contemplated in the (1977) Torrijos-Carter treaties," a military spokesman said in a broadcast before Noriega's address. "Their presence is a manifestation of the U.S. interest in projecting its power in this hemisphere. . . ."

In his speech, Noriega said: "The U.S. military presence here . . . is geared to gain power. The military presence should be strictly Panamanian. We reject the Southern Command. It constitutes more aggression against Panama."

In Washington, the Pentagon appeared to reject the Panamanian demand, saying the U.S. presence in Panama was sanctioned by the canal treaties.

President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos signed two treaties that were ratified by the U.S. Senate--the Panama Canal Treaty and the Panama Canal Neutrality Treaty. While the latter pact guaranteed the canal's neutrality after the year 2000, the Panama Canal Treaty governed the operation and defense of the strategic waterway until it is handed over to Panama on the last day of 1999.

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