Panama's Noriega should get POW conditions: lawyer

28th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

France is failing to keep Panama's ex-dictator Manuel Noriega in conditions appropriate to his status as a "prisoner of war" following his extradition, one of his lawyers said Wednesday.

"At the moment the Geneva convention (on the treatment of prisoners of war) is being utterly scorned," lawyer Antonin Levy told AFP after visiting Noriega in custody at La Sante prison in Paris.

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1981 to 1989, was extradited to Paris Tuesday from Miami, Florida to face charges of laundering drug profits.

The 76-year-old general will be held at the prison while he waits for his trial to begin.

He had been held for 21 years in Miami after being deposed in 1989 when then US president George Bush sent troops into Panama to arrest him on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.

"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 said.

He said that in the United States Noriega had been living under surveillance in a kind of house within a prison.

Another of Noriega's lawyer said earlier that the Panamanian former strongman was downcast by the Tuesday's ruling to keep him in custody as he awaits trial.

"We sensed that he was particularly demoralised by the decision. It was a difficult moment for him," said Yves Leberquier.

Noriega 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 must be allowed to return to his home country, where he has also been convicted in absentia.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed Noriega's extradition order to France on Monday, ending years of legal wrangling over his fate.

© 2010 AFP

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