Ex-Panama leader Noriega appeals to Red Cross

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Lawyers for Manuel Noriega appealed to the Red Cross on Tuesday, saying the ex-dictator is being detained in grim conditions and has been unfairly denied prisoner of war status.

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1981 to 1989, was extradited to France from the United States on April 27 to face charges of laundering drug profits, two decades after he was arrested by US forces in his country.

Lawyers for the 76-year-old general have written to Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to urge him to intervene on their client's behalf.

"We are asking, on behalf of our client, your intervention to end this violation of international humanitarian law," lawyers Olivier Metzner and Yves Leberquier wrote in the letter.

Noriega, who suffers from partial paralysis and high blood pressure, has been jailed at the Paris La Sante prison and a hearing is set for next week to set a trial date.

At that hearing on May 12, Noriega's lawyers will urge the judge to release the ex-president pending trial and spare him what they say are harsh detention conditions.

"We know the La Sante detention centre for having been there several times," wrote the lawyers. "We know how old and decrepit it is."

Metzner and Leberquier argued that a frail 76-year-old should not be held in such conditions, deprived of his uniform, his medals and without access to medication or a Spanish-speaking doctor.

"Noriega should not be detained and neither should he be held in these conditions," Metzner told AFP.

The lawyers contend that the former president 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 in 1989.

A US judge granted him prisoner of war status during his detention in Miami, Florida and his lawyers contend that France had promised to recognise it after his extradition.

"If France does not recognise the prisoner of war status, then it must send Manuel Noriega back to the United States," Metzner said.

French justice officials contend that he is charged with offences that were not committed as part of his military service and argue that the Geneva conventions spelling out prisoner of war status do not apply.

The lawyers contend that a prisoner of war cannot be stripped of this status under the Geneva convention.

Noriega is expected to go on trial in the coming months.

© 2010 AFP

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