France denies Noriega war prisoner status
France on Thursday rejected a demand by Panama's former dictator Manuel Noriega to be treated as a prisoner of war while he awaits trial in Paris on charges of laundering drug money.
"Mr Noriega does not have prisoner of war status. He is charged on our territory with breaches of common law that were not committed in the course of his military service," justice ministry spokesman Guillaume Didier told AFP.
One of Noriega's lawyers, Antonin Levy, has argued that the 76-year-old general should be treated as a prisoner of war as he was a general who was captured by US forces during an invasion of his country.
"As a prisoner of war, he has the right to a certain freedom of movement within his place of detention, which does not correspond to the French penitentiary system," Levy told AFP after visiting Noriega at La Sante prison in Paris.
Didier insisted however that "the general conditions of detention in France respect the various imperatives set out by the Geneva Conventions (on human rights) for prisoners of war."
He said Noriega can "send and receive mail, receive parcels, perform physical exercise in the open air, receive medical treatment and spiritual assistance."
France has also agreed to let the Red Cross visit him.
Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1981 to 1989, was extradited to Paris on Tuesday from Miami, Florida to face charges of laundering drug profits. He had been held for 21 years in Miami.
He was convicted in absentia in France in 1999 for laundering drug profits and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Under French law, defendants tried in absentia are entitled to a new trial.
Noriega's defence lawyers contest France's jurisdiction to try the case and argue that the ex-leader should be allowed to return to his home country, where he has also been convicted in absentia.
© 2010 AFP