WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 1989 (UPI) -- The White House, in a 24-hour hardening of its suspicions, condemned a sudden rash of confrontations between U.S. and Panamanian troops Monday as a new ''pattern of indiscriminate violence'' by Gen. Manuel Noriega.
Amid rising tensions, the Defense Department said a U.S. Army lieutenant shot and apparently wounded a member of the Panamanian Defense Forces Monday in an armed standoff outside a laundry in a Panama City suburb.
The Panamanian ''signaled to the lieutenant to stop as he approached his car,'' a Pentagon spokesman said. ''The U.S. serviceman felt threatened when he saw the Panamanian apparently reach for his weapon. The American responded defensively, pulling a weapon and firing two shots. The Panamanian went down, then got up and left the scene.''
That shooting, the second in 48 hours, followed the Saturday night killing of a U.S. officer in civilian clothes as he and three other off-duty Americans were fleeing in their car from an anti-American clash at a PDF checkpoint.
The killing, first treated by U.S. officials as ''an isolated incident,'' was described by White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater as only one of three serious confrontations Saturday between U.S. and Panamanian forces.
''When you put all of these things together,'' Fitzwater said, ''you begin to discern a certain climate of aggression that is very disturbing.''
A review of the weekend events in Panama caused the administration to take a more serious view of the declaration Friday by the Panamanian National Assembly of a ''state of war'' with the United States.
After shrugging it off Friday as meaningless, Fitzwater said Monday that ''we're very concerned'' the declaration ''may have been a license for harassment and threats and, in this case, even murder of a United States citizen.''
The hardened assessment was delivered as Fitzwater disclosed that in addition to the killing of the U.S. officer and the harassment of a naval officer and his wife, there had been a third encounter Saturday between U.S. and Panamanian troops.
In that incident, omitted from a Pentagon chronology Sunday, Fitzwater said a group of U.S. military policemen, summoned to an airport by a cry for help, had been confronted, detained, interrogated and stripped of their weapons and radios before being released.
In view of the timing of the three incidents, the fact that they were carried out in separate places by different elements of the PDF and the nature of the harassment of the naval officer's wife, Fitzwater said, ''The Panamanian declaration of war appears to have set off a pattern of indiscriminate violence.''
His comments raised the temperature of the U.S. reaction as President Bush refused to discuss a possible military response or other measures to escalate the almost 2-year-old U.S. drive to force Noriega from power.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney accused Noriega on Sunday of creating ''an atmosphere where Panamanian Defense Forces feel free to fire on unarmed Americans,'' but stopped short of alleging a calculated new campaign of violence against U.S. citizens.
Fitzwater asserted that Noriega, as commander of the PDF, ''sets the tone and gives the orders and gives the directions.''
The killing of the U.S. officer was the most violent clash between U.S. and Panamanian troops in 25 years.
In the second incident, a Navy lieutenant and his wife who witnessed the killing were blindfolded, gagged and detained for four hours of interrogation, beatings and threats. The wife was ''sexually threatened,'' the Pentagon said.
Fitzwater deplored the killing as ''unconscionable'' and ''symbolic of the brutality and viciousness with which General Noriega has conducted the affairs of Panama. '' The attack on the naval officer's wife ''certainly goes beyond any previous experience.''