PANAMA CITY — U.S. troops today surrounded the Nicaraguan and Cuban embassies after rumors spread that Gen. Manuel A. Noriega may have fled there during the U.S. military invasion that toppled his regime.
U.S. troops pressing the hunt for Noriega gained control of all major Panamanian military bases after sporadic fighting late Wednesday and early today.
Overnight, Noriega tried to rally his supporters by making a brief radio address in which he vowed to "win or die."
The general's loyalists apparently still held at least some Americans hostage.
After rumors spread that Noriega or other members of the Panamanian Defense Forces high command were in the Nicaraguan and Cuban embassies, U.S. troops in armored personnel carriers surrounded the two missions.
One armored personnel carrier driver had to ask a reporter for directions, and a soldier laying concertina wire at the Nicaraguan Embassy said, "We're just securing exits."
U.S. military officials said most of the fighting between pro-Noriega forces and American troops has subsided and that little real threat remains.
A midday Pentagon report raised the number of casualties from the massive invasion intended to usher in a "new democratic government" in Panama and wipe out Noriega: 19 U.S. servicemen killed, 117 wounded and one missing.
One American civilian was killed, Candy Helin, 43, a schoolteacher of gifted children at a U.S. government school in Panama and the daughter of a former Army port commander. A State Department spokesman said she was killed by stray fire from the Panamanian Defense Forces.
Officials at military hospitals in San Antonio, Tex., said they were treating about 190 wounded troops evacuated from Panama, a higher count than that reported at the Pentagon.
Juan Antonio Rodriguez, a photographer for Spain's largest newspaper, El Pais, was killed and an unidentified English photographer was injured in a cross-fire between U.S. troops in the Marriott Hotel parking lot in Panama City, other journalists said.
Six journalists were standing outside in the parking lot when a U.S. armored personnel carrier approached, said Maruja Torres, a correspondent for El Pais.
Apparently thinking the personnel carrier belonged to Panamanian forces, U.S. troops inside the hotel yelled at the journalists to get out of the way, then opened fire as they scattered, said Torres.
"They fired on us savagely, they don't have any respect for journalists," said Torres. The personnel carrier, which turned out to be American, returned fire briefly, he said.
At a Pentagon briefing this afternoon, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Kelly said shooting continued in Panama City but some of Noriega's troops had stripped off their uniforms and surrendered in their underwear. He said a brother-in-law of Noriega had called to arrange his own surrender and that of 15 members of the Panamanian Defense Forces.
Kelly said U.S. troops had taken 1,500 prisoners, most of them regulars from the Defense Force. He said 59 Panamanian soldiers had been killed and 66 wounded.