Pubdate: Fri, 21 Dec 2007
Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Associated Press


PANAMA CITY, Panama - The anniversary of the 1989 U.S. invasion was
declared a day of "national mourning" by Panama's legislature on
Thursday, and it established a commission to determine how many people
were killed when U.S. troops stormed the capital.

The measure was unanimously approved as Panama commemorated the 18th
anniversary of the day thousands of troops landed to arrest dictator
Manuel Noriega on drug charges.

"This is a recognition of those who fell on Dec. 20 as a result of the
cruel and unjust invasion by the most powerful army in the world,"
said Rep. Cesar Pardo of the governing Democratic Revolutionary Party,
which holds a majority in the legislature.

The measure, which requires the approval of President Martin Torrijos,
also calls for a monument to honor the dead.

U.S. officials downplayed the issue. "We prefer to look to the
future," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall. "We are very
satisfied to have a friend and partner like Panama, a nation that has
managed to develop a mature democracy."

Polls at the time indicated that Panamanians overwhelmingly welcomed
the invasion that rid them of Noriega, but there have been increasing
feelings that the invasion was a blow to the nation's dignity.

The government estimates that 472 to 500 Panamanians were killed, but
human rights organizations say more than 1,000 died. About 25,000 U.S.
troops participated in the invasion, 23 of whom were killed.

Thursday's measure establishes a "truth and reconciliation" commission
with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and attorney
general's office to determine the exact number of civilian and
military deaths.

It also will try to list the names of those killed from October 1968,
when military rule began in Panama under the current president's
father, to December 1989, when Noriega was ousted.

Noriega, an ex-CIA collaborator, was sentenced to 30 years on U.S.
drug trafficking charges in 1992. His sentence, reduced for good
behavior, ended Sept. 9, but he remains in custody until the
resolution of an extradition request by France, which wants to try him
on money-laundering charges. 
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