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A U.S. grand jury indicted him on drug charges in 1988, escalating tensions between his forces and U.S. troops stationed around the Panama Canal. A U.S. Marine was killed in one clash. President George H.W. Bush also accused Noriega’s men of abusing a U.S. Navy serviceman and his wife.

On Dec. 20, 1989, more than 26,000 U.S. troops began moving into Panama City, clashing with Noriega loyalists in fighting that left sections of the city devastated. Twenty-three U.S. troops, 314 Panamanian soldiers and 200 civilians died in the operation.

The dictator hid in bombed and burned-out neighborhoods before he sought refuge in the Vatican Embassy, which was besieged by U.S. troops playing loud rock music. When he gave up he was flown to Miami for trial on drug-related charges.

Noriega was convicted on the U.S. drug trafficking charges two years after the invasion, and served 17 years. He received special treatment as a prisoner of war and lived in his own bungalow with a TV and exercise equipment.

When his sentence ended, he was extradited to France, which convicted him for laundering millions of dollars in drug profits through three major French banks, and investing drug cash in three luxury Paris apartments.

In Panama, Noriega was sentenced in absentia for the murders of military commander Moises Giroldi, slain after leading a failed 1989 rebellion, and Hugo Spadafora, a political opponent found decapitated on the border with Costa Rica in 1985. He also was convicted in a third case involving the death of troops who aided one of his opponents in a rebellion, and could be tried in the deaths of other opponents.

Unlike his minimum-security digs outside Miami, Noriega’s cell at El Renacer will be spartan.

Noriega “will be located in an individual cell, without luxuries and in similar conditions to the rest of the inmates,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Vielka Pritsiolas said.

Pictures posted on the ministry’s website showed a cell with little more than a bed, a table, and a shelf. The cell has its own tiny bathroom, relatively wide window slits and door screens that look out onto a sunny, tropical space with plants.

Noriega’s lawyers in Panama have said they plan to request house arrest under a law that allows those over 70 to serve their sentences at home. Noriega’s legal team says he has blood pressure problems and is paralyzed on the left side as a result of a stroke several years ago.

Hatuey Castro, 82, a Noriega opponent who was detained and beaten by his henchmen, says it is about time Noriega paid for what he did.

Noriega was responsible for the invasion and those who died in the operation,” he said. “He dishonored his uniform, there was barely a shot and he went off to hide. He must pay.”

Others are more sympathetic toward the aging ex-general. When last seen during his extradition from the United States to France, he appeared to have difficulty walking and was assisted by others.

“This man has paid for his crimes, and it looks like he can hardly walk anymore,” said 67-year-old retiree Hildaura Velasco. “If he dies in prison, or at home, what does it matter?”

Dance professor Ileana de Sola, 80, says it’s time to let the past go.

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