Noriega Silent On Former Presidents’ Offer To Mediate Crisis
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Two former Latin American presidents say they met with Panama’s military leader, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, and offered to mediate this nation’s political crisis.
Daniel Oduber of Costa Rica and Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela said they made the offer as part of a Latin American initiative during a two-hour meeting Tuesday with Noriega shortly after arriving in the country.
State-run Channel 2 television later broadcast their statements.
There was no immediate response from Noriega on the initiative, and his press office would not say whether Oduber and Andres Perez were still in the country.
″We came to offer our good offices to try to find a solution to the problem. We are doing this as Latin Americans because we are worried,″ Andres Perez said.
He said he and Oduber told Noriega they planned to divide their mission into two parties - to achieve a dialogue between the government and the opposition, and to resolve the confrontation between the United States and the Noriega-controlled government.
Both the opposition and the United States want Noriega to relinquish power. The general, who heads the country’s 15,000-strong Defense Forces, was indicted in Florida on federal drug trafficking charges in February.
Panama’s acting president, Manuel Palma Solis, was also present at Tuesday’s meeting at a louge in Tocumen air force base near the capital, which occurred after Andres Perez and Oduber arrived in a private plane.
The two were picked for the mission by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, who announced the initiative on Monday.
An earlier effort to have Panama’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Marcos G. McGrath, mediate the crisis failed because of what Arias called interference by the United States.
Most Latin American leaders have been cool to Noriega, who has been accused of electoral fraud, graft and political assassination, but also resent overt intervention by the United States to force the general’s ouster.
Panama has been hurt by U.S. economic sanctions imposed after the drug indictments to try and force Noriega to leave Panama.
But Noriega has not budged, and negotiations with a U.S. State Department envoy about the general’s stepping down broke down last week.