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U.S. To Hand Over Base to Panama

January 7, 1998

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ The former headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command will be converted into housing for diplomats after it is handed back to Panama, authorities said Wednesday.

The facility at Quarry Heights, to be turned over at a ceremony Thursday, is the latest in a series of U.S. bases being handed to Panama in accordance with a 1977 treaty.

Economists say the U.S. bases had injected between $200 million and $300 million a year into the Panamanian economy when all were operating. Panama hopes to regain that income through civilian use of the bases.

``Quarry Heights is destined to become a sumptuous diplomatic villa, with its southern turn-of-the-century, French-Caribbean architectural style which make it unique,″ said a statement from the Interoceanic Regional Authority, the Panamanian agency charged with converting the bases to civilian use.

The Southern Command had its headquarters at Quarry Heights until September, when it was transferred to Miami. Located on 73 acres near Panama City, the base was built in 1914 and includes 33 buildings, a restaurant, barber shop and a small hotel.

The United States already has turned over the Albrook, Fort Amador, Fort Davis and Espinar bases, as well as the Gorgas military hospital. Seven other bases, including Howard, Rodman and Fort Sherman, are to be handed over in 1999.

The United States and Panama are negotiating the establishment of an international anti-drug center on at least one of the former bases.

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