PANAMA CITY, FEB. 8 -- The military, in a show of support for strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, today asked President Eric Delvalle to expel all U.S. troops from Panama, site of the largest U.S. base in Latin America.
Noriega was indicted Friday by federal grand juries in Miami and Tampa on charges of helping Colombian cocaine traffickers in return for millions of dollars in payoffs. The military's request for the expulsion of U.S. soldiers followed the recall during the weekend of Panama's ambassadors to Washington, the United Nations and the Organization of American States for "urgent consultations" over the rapid deterioration in relations with the United States.
In Washington, the Defense Department made it clear that it had no intention of removing its forces from Panama. "We are in Panama in compliance with the Panama Canal treaty and we are fully committed to the Carter-Torrijos treaties. Those treaties provide for us to be there until noon on Dec. 31, 1999," spokeswoman Capt. Nancy Lalutas said.
The Southern Command, which oversees 10,000 soldiers in Panama, protects the Canal Zone and directs all U.S. military activity in South and Central America, reportedly has been a key adjunct in the administration's support of the Nicaraguan contras.