Panama promises to respect ex-strongman's rights

21st June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Panamanian authorities have promised to respect the rights of ex-strongman Manuel Noriega if he is extradited to his home country to stand trial for human rights violations.

France is set to launch extradition proceedings to send Noriega back home to Panama to face justice, the French foreign ministry said Monday.

"Noriega has several cases pending here (in Panama) and must be judged for these cases. He has to tell the truth on all subjects of the murders, killings and violations of human rights," said Patricia Portugal, an official from the prosecutor's office in Panama and daughter of Helidoro Portugal, a union leader assassinated in 1970 by the former general.

A Paris court jailed Noriega, 77, last July after he was extradited from the United States.

Panama officials said on Sunday that the United States had given its approval for him to be extradited back to Panama. Washington's consent was required under existing treaties since he has not yet served his full term.

"The consent of the United States opens the administrative phase of the procedure to extradite Manuel Noriega," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told a news conference on Monday.

"The government is preparing to make an extradition decree" to be served on Noriega, who will then have a month to appeal it in the French courts, he added.

The Panama government began on Monday to prepare a cell to house the former strongman, after the announcement from French authorities.

"We have provided a jail cell at El Renacer, if he (Noriega) arrives," Panama's Minister of the Interior, Roxana Mendez, told journalists.

In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to comment on the issue.

Following his conviction in France last year, Noriega is serving a seven-year jail term for laundering drug money through French banks in the 1980s. He had served 20 years in a US jail in Miami before being extradited to France.

He has three convictions for human rights violations in Panama, dating to his military rule there from 1983 to 1989. Each conviction carries a 20-year prison sentence.

If he does not appeal against extradition, "the Panamanian authorities will then be notified of the decree and will have to quickly arrange to take custody of the former dictator," Valero said.

No date was announced for the return of Noriega, but French diplomatic sources told AFP that he would return in late July.

© 2011 AFP

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