Panama respects Noriega extradition, insists on his return

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The Panamanian government Monday said it respected the "sovereign" US decision to extradite former strongman Manuel Noriega to France but insisted he still be brought back to Panama to serve outstanding prison sentences.

"The United States government through the State Department took a sovereign decision to send him to France and we respect that decision," said Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela.

However, "that does not mean Panama won't insist on pursuing diplomatic and legal channels to return Mr Noriega to his country to face the sentences imposed by Panamanian courts."

Noriega was extradited to France to face money-laundering charges after years of legal wrangling. He still has three convictions for human rights violations in Panama, however, each carrying a 20-year prison sentence.

Noriega consolidated his power over Panama in the 1980s, rising to become the head of the military and the country's most feared man. He was overthrown during a 1989 US invasion dubbed "Operation Just Cause" and captured by US forces.

© 2010 AFP

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