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Holy See Urging Noriega To Leave Embassy Refuge

December 29, 1989

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ The Vatican is urging Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega to leave his refuge at its embassy in Panama City, a Holy See spokesman said today.

The spokesman, Joaquin Navarro, also criticized U.S. activities outside the Vatican embassy and said ″steps″ would be taken if the disturbances continue. He did not elaborate.

U.S. forces have staked out the mission and blasted rock music from a stereo system in the street to try to put pressure on Noriega to surrender to be prosecuted on U.S. drug trafficking charges.

″The nuncio is doing his best to convince Gen. Noriega to abandon the nunciature on his own, by himself,″ spokesman Joaquin Navarro said. ″At the same time he cannot force Noriega to leave nor can he consign him to U.S forces.″

It was the first time the Vatican said publicly it was trying to persuade Noriega to leave. However, Navarro said the possibility had been discussed with Noriega since he took refuge at the mission on Sunday.

In what has appeared to be a standoff, the Vatican has insisted that the papal nunciature, or embassy, cannot legally turn the general over to U.S. forces since, under accepted international procedures, an embassy is only empowered to deal with the government of the host country.

Navarro today said the Vatican still has not received a formal request from the new Panamanian government to turn over Noriega.

Navarro denounced U.S. ″interference″ in the embassy’s autonomy.

″An occupying power cannot interfere with the works of a diplomatic mission nor can it demand that a person seeking asylum in that mission be handed over to it,″ Navarro said.

He was asked to comment on U.S. tactics, such as the searching of the nuncio or the shooting out of street lights to blacken the area at night in hopes of thwarting a possible undetected exiting of Noriega.

″If this is going to continue, further steps will be taken″ by the Vatican, the spokesman said, without giving details. He added, however, that the Vatican was not in a ″clash″ with the United States.

Navarro was asked about Panamanian officials’ statements that the government of President Guillermo Endara has sent a letter to the Vatican asking that Noriega be expelled from the embassy.

″We haven’t got that letter,″ Navarro said. Asked how come, he replied, ″I don’t know, ask the post office, the telex″ office, he said.

The Vatican’s top spokesman said there had been progress in negotiations between the United States and the Holy See over Noriega’s fate.

Asked for details, he replied, ″The positions are clearer.″

On Wednesday, he estimated that the standoff would be resolved to both sides’ satisfaction within a few days.

He said today he still expected the matter to be resolved in days but that ″it could be 20, 30 or 40 days.″

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