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Men Backing Noriega Use Land Rover To Seize Consulate With PM-Panama, Bjt

March 8, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ Panamanian Embassy workers and private security men used a Land Rover to smash into and seize the Panamanian Consulate, whose top diplomat had remained loyal to deposed President Eric Arturo Delvalle.

Police said they believed the six assailants, including two representatives of Panamanian Ambassador Guillermo Vega, entered the building Monday night after using the jeep to break through its reinforced plate glass door.

The consul, Eduardo Arango, had refused to give up his post despite being fired for still recognizing Delvalle.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said the consulate staff had also remained loyal to Delvalle, who was ousted Feb. 26 after trying to dismiss Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama’s military leader and de facto ruler.

Control of Panama’s Embassy in Washington is also in dispute.

The Reagan administration has been trying to force Noriega to step down since the general was indicted on federal drug trafficking charges in Florida last month.

The Land Rover, driven by one of the British security men, mounted the sidewalk, smashed through the door into the lobby of the consulate, which is about a mile from the Panamanian Embassy.

″Shortly after this several people left the building, including three women believed to be secretaries, and a number of security staff. One glass- paneled front door was damaged. No one was injured,″ police said in a statement.

Arango was at his London home at the time and was told about it by one of the consulate staff.

One consular official who was forced out, Tourism Commissioner Rolando Domingo, 24, said: ″We were just working in there and then suddenly we heard a crash.″ He said the jeep came through the glass door and then a group of men entered the building carrying large hammers.

″They threatened us with hammers and one tried to hit my face. They took my passport and documents. Then they pushed me down the stairs and out of the building,″ Domingo said.

Police sealed off the area around the consulate in Tudor Street in the City, London’s financial district.

Police said they entered the consulate after negotiations with Panamanian government representatives they did not identify, and left the building in the control of the ambassador and his security staff.

Arango, in a BBC interview, condemned the forced entry as ″a thuggish way of behaving and an unbelievable way of doing things in a civilized country.″

He was quoted by the British domestic news agency Press Association as saying he was prevented from entering the consulate after the seizure and that one of the men involved told him they were working for Vega and carrying out orders from Panama.

The agency also quoted Arango as saying he had received letters from Panama saying he was dismissed but ignored them. British government officials said they were told on Friday that Arango was being fired as consul.

The BBC said Arango was in Panama at the time of Delvalle’s ouster and has said he helped smuggle Delvalle from his residence to a hiding place in the Central American country.

Arango said he would protest to the British Foreign Office and said the British driver of the Land Rover ought to be prosecuted.

The security guards involved work for GB Security, a private company based at Sutton in south London.

A spokesman at the British Foreign Office, who in accordance with British practice declined to be named, said it was too early to say what action, if any, Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe might take over the incident.

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