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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Judge agrees Noriega extradition
Manuel Noriega
Noriega is wanted in Panama for the murder of a political opponent
A US federal judge has approved the extradition of former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega to France when his Florida jail sentence ends next month.

Noriega faces 10 years in prison in France on money-laundering charges.

Judge William Turnoff's decision was a formality after a judge last week rejected arguments by Noriega's lawyers that he should be returned to Panama.

Noriega, 73, is due in September to end a 1992 prison term in Miami for drug-trafficking and racketeering.

"This court will issue a certificate of extraditability with respect to Gen Manuel Antonio Noriega," Judge Turnoff said at the end of a brief hearing in Miami.

Noriega's lawyers have in the past said that they will appeal against any extradition request from France.

Last week, his lawyers failed to block the extradition bid when they tried to argue that his status as a US prisoner of war negated the request.

Tried in absentia

Noriega was made a POW after he was arrested during the US invasion of Panama more than 17 years ago.

In a 12-page decision last Friday, Judge William Hoeveler said Noriega's status was not meant "to shield him from all future prosecutions for serious crimes he is alleged to have committed".

The French authorities want his extradition so that he can serve out a sentence on a 1999 money-laundering conviction obtained in absentia.

But Panamanian President Martin Torrijos has said he would like the former military leader returned to Panama to serve a sentence for the murder of a government opponent.

Noriega's lawyers say their client wants to return to Panama so he can clear his name.

Recent changes to the law in Panama mean that since he is older than 70, Noriega would be allowed to serve any sentence under house arrest, rather than in prison.

Erstwhile ally

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 drug-trafficking in the region.

However, in 1988 a Florida court charged Noriega with helping Colombian drug-traffickers smuggle tons of cocaine into the US.

The White House went on to accuse the Panamanian leader of election-rigging and violating human rights.

In 1989, more than 20,000 US troops invaded Panama, ousting and detaining Noriega, who was replaced by Guillermo Endara.

Among arguments used by President Bush to justify the invasion were alleged threats to the lives of US citizens in Panama and the neutrality of the Panama Canal, as well as need to combat the drugs trade.

At least 200 Panamanian civilians were killed as US troops battled Noriega's security forces in an invasion condemned by the Organization of American States.

Some researchers have said the overall number of Panamanian deaths amounted to several thousand.




SEE ALSO
Noriega fails to stop extradition
25 Aug 07 |  Americas
Noriega fights France extradition
23 Jul 07 |  Americas
Panama 'wants Noriega extradited'
20 Jul 07 |  Americas
No parole for Noriega
21 Mar 00 |  Americas
Country profile: Panama
25 Aug 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Panama
25 Aug 07 |  Country profiles

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