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Panamanian Children Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ To Michigan Girl

October 11, 1988

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Children from the low-income neighborhood of San Miguelito sang ″Happy Birthday″ to Sarah York on Monday and paid tribute to the Negaunne, Mich., girl as a ″messenger of peace and affection.″

Sarah, who turns 11 on Friday, is visiting Panama as a guest of the country’s de facto ruler, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. She spent the last full day of her stay at the mayor’s office, the local military headquarters and with other children.

She smiled broadly when presented with a cake with the Panamanian flag drawn on top. Children also gave her a doll in native dress, a blouse with detailed applique work done by the Kuna Indians and a bouquet of flowers.

A plaque read: ″To Sarah, who with the simplicity that distinguishes all children expresses the concern of children in the United States for the destiny of Panamanian children ... Through you, we warmly embrace American children, brothers in innocence, hope and understanding.″

Sarah, who returns home on Tuesday, wore the native dress of the Guaymi Indians of western Panama. She had exchanged letters with Noriega after seeing him on television in March.

Relations between Panama and the United States have been strained by U.S. pressure on Noriega to resign as chief of the Defense Forces and leave the country. U.S. drug trafficking charges were leveled against him in February.

Noriega denies the charges. He says they are part of a plan by far right elements in the United States to avoid complying with the Panama Canal treaties, which mandate turning the waterway over to Panama at the end of 1999.

Sarah told the children they were welcome to visit her in Negaunee, brought them a map of Michigan; balls of iron and copper, two minerals produced in the state; a ball covered with a substance resembling snow and a wooden deer.

″We feel very happy that you have visited us and have reached our district to share our joys and our hopes,″ said a letter read by the children.

″Tell all the children in the United States that the Panamanian children like them a lot.″

They said San Miguelito, with 250,000 inhabitants, most of them from the interior of the country, has problems in housing, health and education.

At the San Miguelito military headquarters, Abraham Bustamante, a boy dressed in a military uniform, told her they were pleased that she was ″our friend″ and added that Panamanians ″struggle valiantly to defend our fatherland.″

″I am happy to know you and to be here,″ Sarah said.

Her mother, Pauline York, said she was ″moved by the friendship″ Panamanians have shown and that, even though they speak different languages ″the smiles bring a message of great friendship.″

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