Washington Post correspondent Julia Preston was detained yesterday by Panamanian security officials after she attempted to enter the country on a reporting assignment.

Preston, who is based in Miami and covers Central America and the Caribbean region, was detained for several hours at the airport. She then was expelled from the country by security officials who offered no reason for their action, nor allowed Preston to contact the newspaper.

Preston was put aboard an Eastern Airlines flight Sunday afternoon en route to Miami, however, the aircraft reportedly developed mechanical problems and remained overnight in Panama. Passengers were reportedly taken to several hotels in Panama, but Preston's whereabouts as of late Sunday night were not known. Panamanian officials in Washington and Panama said they had no information on her whereabouts or on her detention.

A U.S. Embassy official in Panama who went to the airport earlier Sunday said he was able to speak with Preston for a few minutes as she was being escorted to the Eastern Aircraft.

Preston told the official that she had no idea why she was detained or being expelled, that she was not ill treated during the detention, but that she was not allowed to make any phone calls while being held. Preston, who has made many reporting trips to the country, entered Panama earlier Sunday along with a correspondent from the Los Angeles Times. The immigration authorities allowed the Times correspondent into the country but took Preston to a detention area at the airport.