U.S. Army Fighting Crime Wave In Panama City
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ The United States has increased its military patrols in an effort to check a crime wave sweeping the capital and surrounding areas, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command said Thursday.
″There was already some talk of setting up vigilante groups. The additional U.S. security should stop that,″ he said.
The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said measures include additional checkpoints in Panama City, but did not say how many more soldiers were on the streets or give additional details.
Gunmen have been roaming the streets at night and breaking into homes.
William Joyce, an American working for the Panama Canal, was killed Tuesday night in what appeared to be a burglary.
Masked men entered his home in a supposedly safe residential area and shot him. They stole jewelry and three rifles from a gun collection. Joyce was president of the Rod and Gun Club.
Another Panama Canal Commisison employee was held up a few days earlier.
Vice President Ricardo Arias Calderon, who is also government and justice minister, met with commanders of the newly formed Public Force to discuss crime figures and ways of battling the crime wave, a force spokesman said.
″The minister is going over the figures so we cannot release them,″ he said.
Business and other leaders have asked President Guillermo Endara’s government to increase security.
Alfredo Maduro, president of the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce, said, ″We know there has been an increase in criminal activities. We have asked that the Public Force and the U.S. Army increase security in Panama City and in Colon,″ the No. 2 city in Panama.
″If there is no security, there could be additional instances of looting.″
Maduro was referring to three days of widespread looting following the Dec. 20 U.S. military invasion that deposed dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega.
″For businessmen it is imperative to have a Public Force that can be trusted, is respected and inspires security,″ he added.
Noriega now is in Miami where he is awaiting trial on U.S. drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
Endara’s government, with U.S. backing, succeeded the Noriega administration hours after the invasion began.
American military patrols were heavy following the invasion, but were reduced last week.