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Noriega back in Panama after 22 years

GAMBOA, Panama, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega has returned to his home country nearly 22 years after U.S. forces removed him from office.

Upon his return Sunday, Noriega, 77, was taken to El Renacer prison in Gamboa to complete his prison sentence for crimes committed during his rule, CNN reported.

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Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, said Noriega's return to Panama held historic and symbolic significance.

"It's a sense of closure for the Panamanian people. He clearly was a dictator for six years and presided over assassinations, disappearances and killing of opposition leaders," Shifter said. "And so I think that it's something that was unfinished business and I think it's important for Panama to have a sense of closure."

Noriega had been in France for the past year on charges of money laundering. He previously spent 20 years in a U.S. prison for drug trafficking and was convicted in absentia of corruption and murder in Panama. He faces other charges from his time as ruler of the Central American country.

Because Noriega is more than 70 years old, the Panamanian government could allow him to serve his time under house arrest.

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