Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega blamed nervous U.S. Marines who are "frightened of the palm trees" for two shooting incidents in two days at an American military fuel depot where one Marine died.
Noriega, speaking Wednesday at a dedication ceremony at the Rio Hato army base, said the nighttime firefights Monday and Tuesday also demonstrated a lack of professionalism among the Marines."These incidents show the Marines who have come to Panama are nervous, without professionalism, and frightened of the palm trees in Panama," he said.
Marines fired mortars and automatic rifles in a mysterious two-hour firefight Tuesday night after spotting 40 to 50 intruders at the same Navy fuel depot where a trooper was inadvertently killed a night earlier by fellow Marine guards, U.S. officials said.
Col. Ron Sconyers, director of public affairs at the U.S. Southern Command, asked whether nervous Marines could have begun firing into the darkness, said, "We cannot rule anything out at this time."
Noriega's comments were the only official reaction to the incident.
Elsewhere in Panama, riot police arrested three protesters who had attempted to organize a march of unemployed workers against Noriega.