Panama’s Seizure of GIs Followed Detention of Noriega Kin by U.S.
American military police briefly detained the daughter and son-in-law of Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noriega on Sunday after a high-speed car chase across a U.S. air base in Panama, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The arrests apparently triggered the harassment of U.S. servicemen in Panama during the next two days.
The Panama Defense Forces took 30 U.S. servicemen into custody Monday and three more on Tuesday, all for wearing U.S. military uniforms outside the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone in alleged violation of a 1979 agreement, a U.S. military spokesman in Panama said.
No Charges Filed
Most of the servicemen were riding motorcycles or bicycles or walking to work. One was released on the spot, and the rest were set free within hours of their detention, the military spokesman said, and none was charged with violating Panamanian law.
Col. Leonidas Macias, chief of the police for the Panama Defense Forces, acknowledged that the servicemen were stopped but denied that they were taken into custody.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman called the actions “unwarranted” and said that the Panamanian government will be told of U.S. unhappiness over the incident.
The wave of detentions began hours after Noriega’s son-in-law, his daughter, Sandra Noriega de Buchamps, and two unidentified people were chased by U.S. Air Force security police about 6:15 p.m. Sunday across restricted territory on Albrook Air Base near Panama City.
A U.S. military spokesman said that the four had gained entry to the base, apparently to take a shortcut, by displaying one of “a very few” access decals that the U.S. military has issued to the Panamanian military.
Car Run Off Road
After police observed their BMW exceeding the posted speed limit and turned on a flashing red light, the four sped away and passed two other cars illegally, running one off the road, the spokesman said.
Noriega’s son-in-law eventually was stopped but could not produce a license or other identification and became “verbally abusive” to the Air Force security officer, the spokesman said. He was detained and taken to a base police post, where he was released to a Panamanian liaison officer.