U.S. Troops Surround Peruvian Embassy After Reports Noriega Aides Inside
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ U.S. troops today surrounded the Peruvian ambassador’s residence, where government officials said two of Manuel Antonio Noriega’s top associates - one an alleged torturer - had taken refuge.
An official of the Peruvian Embassy denied the men were inside the building.
They were identified as Capt. Gonzalo Gonzalez, commander of the Machos de Monte company that provided security for Noriega’s headquarters, and Lt. Col. Luis Cordova, identified by Noriega’s foes as one of the men who interrogated and tortured prisoners of the overthrown regime.
The two were considered the most-wanted of the former Noriega officials sought since the American invasion that ousted the military leader Dec. 20.
In a telephone interview today broadcast by a radio station in Lima, Peru, Manuel Tirado, the third secretary at the embassy, said a number of Panamanians had taken refuge at the residence of the charge d’affaires, Luis Sandiga. But he said neither Gonzalez nor Cordova was there.
Tirado did not identify the Panamanians in the residence or say how many were there.
President Alan Garcia of Peru was one of the strongest critics of the U.S. invasion, which killed more than 300 U.S. and Panamanian soldiers. The number of civilian deaths remains unclear.
After the invasion, Peru recalled its ambassador from Washington and threatened to boycott a drug summit next month with President Bush.
U.S. troops surrounded the ambassador’s residence in suburban El Cangrejo, near the downtown banking district, at noon Monday.
Foreign Minister Julio Linares said Cordova was inside. Another government source said Gonzalez was also inside along with Noriega secretary Marcela Tason, her son and another high-ranking former government official.
Tirada refused comment on whether Tason was inside.
Linares said he would ask the Peruvian mission and other embassies in Panama for official confirmation and identification of Noriega associates who had requested asylum.
A small detachment of American soldiers remained outside the embassy through the night.
Noriega holed up in the Vatican Embassy for 10 days before surrendering to U.S. troops Jan. 3 and being flown to Miami for prosecution on charges of trafficking in Colombian cocaine.
In developments Monday:
- The government said it was studying whether it would allow Noriega’s family safe passage to the Dominican Republic. His wife Felicidad, three daughters and son-in-law, a Dominican, have taken refuge in the Cuban Embassy.
Linares said he ″had passed the request for safe conduct to the Ministry of Government and Justice, and if there is no complaint against them they will get consent.″
-First Vice President Ricardo Arias Calderon said the country’s Security Force would include specialized military units, but that they would be limited to a few hundreds soldiers and not be big enough to threaten the government.
Civilians in the government installed Dec. 20 in the early hours of the U.S. invasion have tried to limit the size of any new security force to avoid danger of coups. The armed forces ruled Panama from 1968 until Noriega’s overthrow and have been an important political factor since Panama was founded.
-President Guillermo Endara sent a letter to President Bush asking for financial aid to create 24,000 new jobs and for loans to compensate businesses looted by rampaging crowds following the U.S. invasion. Looters caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damage.
-More than 600 members of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division left Panama and returned to Fort Bragg, N.C. In all, about 26,000 U.S. troops took part in the invasion, slightly more than double the number normally stationed in Panama.
Arias would not specify when further U.S. troop withdrawals would occur, but said he expected them to be gradual over the next few weeks.
-The daily La Prensa, closed nearly two years ago by Noriega, resumed publication with an editorial that assailed the Organization of American States for voting to ″deplore″ the U.S. invasion.
It said the United States had freed Panama ″from a barbarian, corrupt and demented tyranny that would have led the country to total ruin with serious risk to the operation of the Panama Canal″ and to the political stability of other Latin American countries.
Arias said Noriega followers were still at large and believed to be armed, creating the danger of urban or other guerrilla activity.
″We have confiscated more than 79,000 weapons,″ said Arias, who also is minister of government and justice. ″There are indications there are more weapons stashed away.″
″We also do not know how the drug-dealing Mafia will react. Noriega had put the resources of this country at their disposal.″
Arias said the 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew would continue for now.
The curfew is enforced mostly by patrolling U.S. military units accompanied by one or two members of the Panamanian security force. On Sunday night more than 300 people were arrested for violating the curfew.