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U.S. soldier wounds Panama sentry in new shooting

By JOHN OTIS

PANAMA CITY, Panama, Dec.18, 1989 (UPI) -- A U.S. soldier shot and wounded a Panamanian sentry Monday, the second shooting in less than 48 hours involving troops from the increasingly estranged nations. Panama's military termed the incident ''rash aggression'' by U.S. forces.

The Panamanian Defense Forces issued a statement saying the wounded military policeman, Cesar Tejada, was recovering in Santo Tomas Hospital and would hold a news conference Tuesday morning.

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The statement called the shooting ''a new and more rash aggression by the (U.S.) army against Panama. ''

In Washington, a defense official said the U.S. Army officer shot and wounded a military transit policeman who had pulled a gun on him, but the U.S. Southern Command in Panama later issued a statement saying the uniformed Panamanian ''apparently'' reached for his gun outside a laundry.

''The Panamanian signaled the serviceman to stop and then approached him,'' the U.S. statement said. ''The U.S. serviceman felt threatened when he saw the Panamanian apparently reach for his weapon. The American responded defensively by pulling a weapon and fired two shots. The Panamanian went down, then got up and left the scene.''

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Panamanian Defense Forces Col. Aquilino Sieiro said Tejada was shot from a vehicle registered to an American living in the Panama Canal Zone area.

The Panamanian statement said the police officer was wounded in the left forearm. It quoted a witness identified as Agustin Veces as saying that the van drove away at high speed after the shooting.

The shooting occurred while Tejada was on duty in a residential area in Curundu, a former U.S. Canal Zone area now under Panamanian jurisdiction, Sieiro said.

Monday's shooting came less than 48 hours after a U.S. officer was killed by Panamanian troops as he and three colleagues drove away from a checkpoint near the Panamanian Defense Forces Headquarters.

Earlier Monday, the Panamanian military denied charges that a U.S. Navy lieutenant and his wife who witnessed Saturday's shooting were mistreated during interrogation.

''They were detained and investigated,'' Lt. Col. Arnulfo Castrejon said of the American couple. ''At no time did our defense forces threaten, intimidate or much less torture anyone. These unfounded charges against our defense forces of mistreatment, humiliation and threats of rape are completely false.''

The U.S. Southern Command said Sunday that a U.S. Navy lieutenant and his wife, who witnessed the slaying of a U.S. officer by Panamanian troops at a checkpoint Saturday night, were detained by the Panamanian Defense Forces for about four hours.

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The U.S. statement said the Navy officer was repeatedly beaten and kicked in the groin and head and that his wife was slammed against a wall with such force that her head was cut. The statement also said she was sexually threatened by Panamanian soldiers.

In Washington, President Bush told wire service reporters he would not discuss options for ousting Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who has been indicted on drug trafficking charges in the United States.

''One of the frustrations I've had to do this year'' was to deal with the ''whole Panama situation,'' Bush said. ''It's been an enormous frustration to me, a matter of tremendous concern to the president.''

Panamanian troops in uniform and civilian dress were positioned at checkpoints around PDF headquarters, but the capital was generally calm, with main streets congested with cars and Christmas shoppers. Officials reopened Avenue A, which had been blocked since the fatal shooting of the U.S. officer at a checkpoint there Saturday night.

Panama charged that the U.S. officers fired from their car at the PDF headquarters Saturday night, wounding three people, including a 1-year-old girl. U.S. officials denied the report and said the officers were unarmed.

The U.S. Southern Command has ordered that all personnel in Panama stay on their bases and keep out of Panama City until further notice. A maximum state of alert by Panamanian Defense Forces continued Monday.

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On Friday, Panama declared a ''state of war'' against the United States for what it claimed is U.S. aggression. In the declaration, the country's National Assembly also formalized Noriega's power by naming him head of government.

Panamanian Foreign Minister Leonardo Kam told reporters Monday that Saturday's incident represented ''a grave escalation of the permanent policy of military intimidation that the U.S. Army has been developing in a systematic form against the Panamanian people.''

Tensions between Noriega's government and Washington, already high because of U.S. efforts to force the Panamanian military leader from power, have escalated since an Oct. 3 coup attempt that Noriega charged was supported by U.S. forces.

The United States has about 10,000 military personnel based in Panama and an estimated 10,000 U.S. civilians live in the country.

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