The government took steps to conceal its legal strategy against Manuel Noriega as jury selection began in the trial of two co-defendants accused of shipping drugs under his protection.

Prosecutors on Monday dropped a key racketeering count against Brian Davidow that would have required extensive evidence about Noriega's alleged role in drug smuggling, said Davidow's defense attorney, Richard Sharpstein.The deposed Panamanian leader is to be tried separately in June.

Noriega attorney Jon May said he was not surprised by the move.

"They want to present their case without giving us a preview of their evidence against General Noriega," he said.

U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman Diane Cossin confirmed the racketeering count would not be part of the trial but refused to discuss the reasons.

Jury selection continued Tuesday in the trial of Davidow, 29, a Miami real estate broker, and William Saldarriaga, 44, a Colombian.

They are accused of conspiring to use the freighter Krill to ship 322 kilograms, or just over 700 pounds, of cocaine bound for the United States.

Colombian authorities intercepted the Krill after it left a Colombian dock in March 1986. Panamanian military weapons were traded to the Medellin cartel for the cocaine, prosecutors charge.