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Army Accuses US Of Sponsoring Plan To Oust Noriega

September 27, 1988

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ The army claims 26 opposition activists arrested last week were involved in a plan devised by U.S. intelligence agents to overthrow Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Col. Guillermo Wong, head of the army’s G-2 intelligence unit, presented a document to reporters Monday that he said security agents discovered during the arrests.

He claimed the six-page document, entitled ″Mission: To Force the Departure of General Noriega″, was authored by U.S. officials and proved U.S. involvement in efforts to oust Noriega.

Terrence Kneebone, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, dismissed the allegation as ″absurd″ and said it was designed ″to divert attention from Panama’s political problems.″

The Reagan adminstration has imposed economic sanctions against Panama in a bid to force Noriega to resign as commander of the Defense Forces and the country’s de facto ruler. Noriega was indicted in Florida last February on charges of trafficking in Colombian cocaine.

Pro-government newspapers originally said 18 people were arrested on Thursday and Friday for alleged involvement in clandestine activities. But the army said Monday that 26 people were detained.

Wong told reporters the document was ″the work of the intelligence services of the United States″ and could be found ″inside the U.S. psychological operations manuals.″ He did not elaborate.

Copies of the document were made available to reporters. It appeared to be a telefax and was written in Spanish.

Proposals outlined in the document included making contact with potential dissidents within the army and disseminating anti-Noriega propaganda, maintaining contact with the foreign press and lobbying democratic governments in Venezuela and Colombia against Noriega.

The document bore no identifying stamps, seals or signatures.

Wong told reporters several weapons were discovered during the arrests of the activists, but refused to provide details.

Lt. Col. Nivaldo Madrinan, director of the army’s National Investigations Department, said several of those detained had confessed to working with Reagan administration officials and two former Panamanian military officers in a bid to undermine the government.

He said the two officers, identified as Lt. Col. Eduardo Herrera and Maj. Cesar Villalaz, operated out of Washington and Miami. Some of those arrested illegally left Panama on flights from the U.S. Howard Air Base in the former Canal Zone to meet with Herrera and Villalaz and plan strategy, Madrinan said.

Madrinan and Wong alleged the 26 detainees belonged to two anti-government groups they identified as the National Conformity Movement and the March 16th Active Movement.

Three detainees present at the news conference told reporters they were involved in subversive activity against the government.

One of them, Jose del Carmen Serracin, is director of the Authentic Panamanian Party in the capital. Reporters were barred from asking him questions.

Wong said authorities were continuing their investigation and that more arrests could be expected.

Members of the Authentic Panamanian and Christian Democratic parties last week rejected charges that those arrested were involved in clandestine activities against the government.

″This is a method that the regime has used on various occasions before against those of us who represent the democratic aspirations of the people,″ Ricardo Arias Calderon, president of the Christian Democratic Party, told reporters Friday.

Federal Attorney General Carlos Villalaz denied charges that the detainees had been tortured. ″Not one detainee has received mistreatment,″ he told the news conference.

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