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State Dept. Links Harassment of Americans to Noriega Regime

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United Press International

The State Department today publicly linked the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega to harassment and violent incidents aimed at American officials and civilians living in Panama.

A Pentagon official said 1,550 of the 2,450 U.S. military families living in civilian housing in Panama in March have been moved into safer quarters on U.S. bases as of Aug. 15.

The escalating tension between the United States and the Noriega government has been marked by charges and countercharges from both sides.

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“There has been a certain amount of harassment of U.S. citizens by the Noriega regime,” State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Kathy Wood said harassment by Noriega’s Panama Defense Forces includes incidents of beatings, sexual assault and extortion.

Earlier this month, a U.S. serviceman and his father were detained for 24 hours by members of the Panamanian Defense Forces, who apparently had been drinking, Wood said. The father was beaten and $300 was stolen from his wallet before the two were released without charges, she said.

Wood said many of the harassment incidents had been published in the Tropic Times, a newspaper published by the U.S. military in Panama because the Noriega government has stopped the import of U.S. newspapers.

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