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Last Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007, 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK
Noriega fights France extradition
By Emilio San Pedro
BBC News

Manuel Noriega
France wants to throw Manuel Noriega in jail
Lawyers for the former military ruler of Panama, Manuel Noriega, are filing a motion in a US court to block his possible extradition to France.

Noriega is due to complete his jail term on drugs-trafficking and racketeering in Miami in September.

France has asked the US to send him there to complete a separate sentence on a money-laundering conviction.

His lawyers say the deal to send him to France was reached with Panama's support to prevent his return there.

Manuel Noriega was once one of Washington's top allies in Latin America, with close ties to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior.

The Panamanian military ruler was seen as a stalwart supporter in the fight against Communism and drugs-trafficking in the region.

However, in 1988 Mr Noriega's positive links to the United States took a sharp negative turn when a Florida court charged him with helping Colombian drugs-traffickers smuggle tons of cocaine into the US.

The White House then added to that accusations of election-rigging and violating human rights.

Panamanian denials

That led to a US military incursion in 1989 in which hundreds of Panamanian civilians were killed, with some estimates saying as many as 4,000 died.

Martin Torrijos
President Torrijos says he wants Noriega back in jail in Panama

The official aim was restoring democracy and the rule of law - but few would disagree that the main aim was to remove Mr Noriega from power and bring him to justice in the US.

Now, just as Noriega is to gain early release from a Florida prison for good behaviour in September, the fight has begun over where he will be heading next.

The French authorities have asked for his extradition so that he can serve out a sentence on a 1999 money-laundering conviction obtained in absentia. That move has met with the blessing of the US authorities.

However, General Noriega's lawyers claim it is all part of an agreement backed by Panama to prevent him from returning home, where he still enjoys a certain degree of support.

There is no denying that a reappearance on the Panamanian political landscape by General Noriega could cause a certain level of embarrassment.

However, President Martin Torrijos denies allegations of a secret deal with France, saying he would like the former military strongman returned to Panama to serve a sentence for the murder of a government opponent.

Panama 'wants Noriega extradited'
20 Jul 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Panama
11 May 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Panama
06 Jun 07 |  Country profiles
No parole for Noriega
21 Mar 00 |  Americas

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