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Panama's mixed claims on Noriega

28 April 10 09:17 GMT

By Hernando Salazar
BBC Mundo

Both allies and opponents of former Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio Noriega want him to be sent back to his own country.

Noriega, who was extradited from the US to France on money-laundering charges this week, served as Panama's head of state until 1989, when he was overthrown during a US military invasion.

"His extradition to France shows once more that the US does not proceed in fairness," said Mario Rognini, a radio commentator and friend of the ex-leader, speaking by telephone.

Mr Rogini feels that it is ridiculous for the US to put money-laundering above the charges Noriega faces in Panama.

He also accuses the French government of acting as an accomplice of the US.

Noriega's lawyer in Panama, Julio Berrio, told Noticias AM radio station he suspected a hidden agenda to prevent his client from returning to his country.

Mr Berrio accused the Panamanian government of allowing the US and France to show the country disrespect by accepting Noriega's extradition.

'Desire for justice'

In an interview for BBC Mundo, former Panamanian Vice-President Guillermo Ford said France's involvement in the case was rightful.

However, Mr Ford would prefer for Noriega to be taken to his own country to pay "for the murders and crimes he committed" there.

The former leader of the Cruzada Civilista movement, which organised acts of civil disobedience while Noriega was in office, said that in view of Noriega's advanced age, 76, it was "not clear" if he would return to Panama.

Mr Ford wanted to make clear that hatred is not his driving force.

"I don't know the meaning of that word," he added. "It's just a simple desire for justice."

Meanwhile, Panama's Foreign Minister, Juan Carlos Varela, said Noriega belonged to the past.

The country was focusing on the fight against drug-trafficking, he said.

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