Noriega surrenders to United States

By DOUGLAS TWEEDALE  |  Jan. 3, 1990
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PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Ousted Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega voluntarily surrendered to U.S. authorities Wednesday, 10 days after he took refuge in the Vatican Embassy following the U.S. invasion of Panama.

'He left of his own will,' said Gen. Maxwell Thurman, head of the U.S. Southern Command in Panama and the overall commander of U.S. military operations in Panama.

Thurman said events unfolded when 'we had a contact with our expert negotiator ... and he received a phone call that said would you kindly report to the (Vatican Embassy) gate and we did report to the gate.'

'(Noriega) walked out the gate. He looked vigorous and was in perfectly good shape. The decision to walk out the gate of the nunciature was his and his alone,' Thurman said during a news conference in the Panamanian capital.

Noriega, under indictment in Florida on drug-trafficking charges, was taken into custody by Drug Enforcement Administration agents at Howard Air Force Base on the outskirts of Panama City, Thurman said.

Xavier Villanueva, a Roman Catholic priest at the Vatican mission, said, 'At 8:50 p.m. General Noriega left the nunciature' and surrendered to U.S. authorities.

Two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters were seen taking off about 9 p.m. from a field next to the Vatican Embassy and headed across Panama Bay, presumably with Noriega aboard.

Asked whether Noriega's departure was a product of negotations, Villanueva said, 'Of course.'

'The church expects that he will be treated humanely and that there will be no capital punishment for him,' Villanueva said.

As word of Noriega's surrender spread through Panama City, hundreds of Panamanians banged pots and pans on their balconies in celebration. They spilled into the streets, setting off fireworks, waving American flags and blowing car horns.

Despite Noriega's surrender, an 11 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew remained in effect for the capital, but few expected it to be respected.

Negotiations concerning Noriega intensified Wednesday afternoon after Papal Nuncio Jose Sebastian Laboa met with new Panamanian Foriegn Minister Julio Linares and with U.S. military officials who had set up a post in a school across the street from the nunciature.

Linares had said he found Laboa 'very optimistic' and said he felt convinced 'the Vatican will turn over General Noriega.'

Thurman refused to say whether there had been any U.S. concessions to get Noriega to surrender. 'You can check (with) the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department. There were no deals here.'

Sources said Noriega would be taken to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, some 30 miles south of Miami. He was expected to arrive about 3:45 a.m. Thursday, Thurman said.

In Washington, President Bush went on national television to confirm Noriega was in U.S. custody.

'At about 8:50 this evening General Noriega turned himself in to U.S. authorities in Panama with the full knowledge of the Panamanian government,' Bush said.

'On Wednesday, Dec. 20, I ordered U.S. troops into Panama with four objectives: to safeguard the lives of American citizens, to help restore democracy, to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal treaty and to bring Gen. Manuel Noriega to justice.

'All of these objectives have now been achieved,' Bush said in a brief statement. 'I want to thank the Vatican and the papal nuncio in Panama for their even-handed statesman-like assistance in recent days.

'The United States is committed to providing General Noriega a fair trial,' Bush said. 'Nevertheless, his apprehension and return to the United States should send a clear signal that the United States is serious in its determination that those charged with promoting the distribution of drugs cannot escape the scrutiny of justice.'

Earlier Wednesday, thousands of Panamanians marched on the Vatican mission to demand Noriega's extradition to the United States as talks on the ousted dictator's fate reached a critical stage.

'Turn him in!' chanted about 10,000 people, who demonstrated near the Papal Nunciature in response to a call by the Civic Crusade, a longtime anti-Noriega group.

The demonstrators, waving American and Panamanian flags, lined nearly a mile of Balboa Avenue, the seashore drive that runs past the Vatican mission in the exclusive Punta Paitilla neighborhood. They shouted congratulations to the Americans for having deposed Noriega in the Dec. 20 invasion. Hundreds cheered on the demonstrators from balconies and high-rise apartment buildings.

American soldiers set up a security cordon of fences and barbed wire to keep the crowd away from the compound. Government officials had expressed some fears that the demonstrators might try to storm the mission, but there were no violent confrontations.

At one point, demonstrators broke through a wire fence set up by the troops, and the crowd surged forward about 100 feet to a roll of wire set up to block the road.

Noriega had been holed up in the Vatican diplomatic mission since Christmas Eve after he was toppled by the U.S. invasion involving 26,000 troops.

There were 23 U.S. servicemen killed in the assault and two U.S. civilians. Scores of Panamanian civilians and at least 240 members of Noriega's Panamanian Defense Forces also were killed.

U.S.-installed President Guillermo Endara's government and an apparently overwhelming majority of Panamanians wanted Noriega handed over to the United States, although Panama's chief prosecutor had said Noriega also could be charged in Panama.

The demonstration took place amid talks between senior U.S. officials and Endara on reconstruction aid to Panama.

In a 12-count federal indictment, Noreiga was charged with turning his country into a haven for Colombian drug traffickers, protecting cocaine as it passed through his Central American nation, allowing smugglers to set up a processing laboratory and letting them deposit profits in Panama banks.

In return the indictment charges, the military strongman received at least $4.6 million in payoffs from smugglers, particularly key figures in Colombia's notorious Medellin cartel believed to be responsible for more than 70 percent of the cocaine imported into the United States.

A separate indictment unsealed in Tampa charged Noriega and Panamanian businessman Enrique Pretelt with arranging to smuggle nearly 1 million pounds of marijuana into the United States between 1982 and 1984.

Endara is seeking a large but unspecified amount of U.S. aid to rebuild Panama's economy, left shattered by massive post-invasion looting and nearly two years of U.S. economic sanctions against the Noriega regime.

Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, leading a Bush administration team to Panama to assess the country's need for U.S. aid to repair damage caused by the invasion, met with Endara and members of his government.

'My visit leaves me with a profound sense of confidence in Panama,' Eagleburger said after the meeting. 'We are bullish on the Panamanian economy.'

The U.S. team also met with Endara's two vice presidents and talked about rebuilding El Chorrillo, a neighborhood destroyed during the U.S. invasion, promoting foreign investment and private enterprise and reducing drug trafficking.

Asked about some Panamanian estimates that the country will need $1.5 billion in economic recovery aid, Eagleburger said the economic team was not ready to put a price tag on the U.S. aid package.

He said a team of experts would remain behind in Panama, and would later report to President Bush on their finding.

Eagleburger said controlling drug trafficking would be a critical fact in U.S. relations with Panama.

Vice President Guillermo Ford assured Eagleburger that Panama is 'now and for ever off limit to drug trafficking.'

Eagleburger said that although some Latin American countries criticized the U.S. invasion, 'The U.S. is not about to apologize for one moment to have played a part in removing a gentleman who needed to have been removed.'

Vice President Ricardo Arias Calderon said Tuesday the United States has 'a moral obligation' to help Panama rebuild in the wake of the invasion, which cost 25 American and hundreds of Panamanian lives.

In Washington, the Justice Department said the United States has asked West Germany to freeze bank accounts believed 'held for the benefit' of Noriega. It said the U.S. government has filed requests to freeze accounts believed to contain more than $10 million in Noriega's alleged drug proceeds with Britain, France, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Also Wednesday, Panamanian government officials said Col. Roberto Armijo, chief of the Public Forces of Panama created by Endara to replace Noriega's military, was fired. U.S. military sources said investigators found out that Armijo had a bank account of more than $1 million, which he could not explain.

More than 400 members of the elite Green Berets from Fort Bragg, N.C., were deployed Wednesday to Panama, and as many as 600 members of the 75th Ranger Battalion returned to the United States, the Southern Command said.

Noriega was indicted by two federal grand juries in Florida Feb. 4, 1988, on drug-trafficking charges.

In Washington, President Bush went on national television to confirm that Noriega was in U.S. custody.

'At about 8:50 this evening Gen. Noriega turned himself in to U.S. authorities in Panama with the full knowledge of the Panamanian government,' Bush said.

'On Wednesday, Dec. 20, I ordered U.S. troops into Panama with four objectives: to safeguard the lives of American citizens, to help restore democracy, to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal treaty and to bring Gen. Manuel Noriega to justice.

'All of these objectives have now been achieved,' Bush said in a brief statement.

'I want to thank the Vatican and the papal nuncio in Panama for their even-handed statesmanlike assistance in recent days.

As Bush's announcement was broadcast live over Cable News Network television in Panama City, hundreds of Panamanians began banging pots and pans on their balconies in celebration.

Hundreds of people spilled into the streets, setting off fireworks and blowing car horns as the news raced through the city.

'Great!' said Gen. Maxwell Thurman, head of the U.S. Southern Command in Panama and the overall commander of U.S. military operations in Panama.

Earlier Wednesday, thousands of Panamanians marched on the Vatican mission to demand Noriega's extradition to the United States as the 9-day-old talks on the ousted dictator's fate reached a critical stage.

'Turn him in!' chanted about 10,000 people, who demonstrated near the Papal Nunciature in response to a call by the Civic Crusade, a longtime anti-Noriega group.

The demonstrators, waving American and Panamanian flags, lined nearly a mile of Balboa Avenue, the seashore drive that runs past the Vatican mission in the exclusive Punta Paitilla neighborhood. They shouted congratulations to the Americans for having deposed Noriega in the Dec. 20 invasion. Hundreds cheered on the demonstrators from balconies and high-rise apartment buildings.

American soldiers set up a security cordon of fences and barbed wire to keep the crowd away from the compound. Government officials had expressed some fears that the demonstrators might try to storm the mission, but there were no violent confrontations.

At one point demonstrators broke through a wire fence set up by the troops, and the crowd surged forward about 100 feet to a roll of wire set up to block the road.

Noriega, who faces federal drug charges in the United States, had been holed up in the Vatican diplomatic mission since Christmas Eve after he was toppled by the U.S. invasion.

U.S.-installed President Guillermo Endara's government and an apparently overwhelming majority of Panamanians wanted Noriega handed over to the United States, although Panama's chief prosecutor had said Noriega also could be charged in Panama.

The demonstration took place amid talks between senior U.S. officials and Endara on reconstruction aid to Panama.

Endara is seeking a large but unspecified amount of U.S. aid to rebuild Panama's economy, left shattered by massive post-invasion looting and nearly two years of U.S. economic sanctions against the Noriega regime.

Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, leading a Bush administration team to Panama to assess the country's need for U.S. aid to repair damage caused by the invasion, met with Endara and members of his government.

'My visit leaves me with a profound sense of confidence in Panama,' Eagleburger said after the meeting. 'We are bullish on the Panamanian economy.'

The U.S. team also met with Endara's two vice presidents and talked about rebuilding El Chorrillo, a neighborhood destroyed during the U.S. invasion, promoting foreign investment and private enterprise and reducing drug trafficking.

When asked about some Panamanian estimated that the country will need $1.5 billion in economic recovery aid, Eagleburger said the economic team was not ready to put a price tag on the U.S. aid package.

He said a team of experts would remain behind in Panama, and would later report to President Bush on their finding.

Eagleburger said controlling drug trafficking would be a critical fact in U.S. relations with Panama.

Vice President Guillermo Ford assured Eagleburger that Panama is 'now and for ever off limit to drug trafficking.'

Eagleburger said that although some Latin American countries criticized the U.S. invasion

'The U.S. is not about to apologize for one moment to have played a part in removing a gentleman (Noriega) who needed to have been removed.'

Vice President Ricardo Arias Calderon said Tuesday the United States has 'a moral obligation' to help Panama rebuild in the wake of the invasion, which cost 25 American and hundreds of Panamanian lives.

Three senators who were also visiting Panama: Sam Nunn, D-Ga., Charles Robb, D-Va., and John Warner, R-Va., met Tuesday with Endara and his two vice presidents to discuss aid before returning to the United States Wednesday.

In Washington, the Justice Department said the United States has asked West Germany to freeze bank accounts believed 'held for the benefit' of Noriega. It said the U.S. government has filed requests to freeze accounts believed to contain more than $10 million in Noriega's alleged drug proceeds with Britain, France, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Also Wednesday, Panamanian government officials said Col. Roberto Armijo, chief of the Public Forces of Panama created by Endara to replace Noriega's military, was fired. U.S. military sources said investigators found out that Armijo had a bank account of more than $1 million, which he could not explain.

More than 400 members of the elite Green Berets from Fort Bragg, N.C., were deployed Wednesday to Panama, and as many as 600 members of the 75th Ranger Batallion returned to the United States, the Southern Command said.

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