A self-described Panamanian spy has said he was recruited by the U.S. military to sabotage the Panama Canal and create a pretext for possible U.S. military intervention.

Fabian Orlando Wallis, 27, who was arrested by Panama's G-2 military intelligence on Saturday, made his remarks at a news conference late on Sunday.

A spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, the Panama-based headquarters for U.S. military operations throughout Central and South America, described Wallis'claims as fabricated.

"Right now I'm inclined to think it's 99 percent bull . . . G-2 probably had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon," the spokesman said.

Wallis' allegations follow repeated claims by the Panamanian government that Washington is preparing to invade the country in a bid to oust its military chief, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Noriega, the country's de facto ruler, has been under increasing pressure to step down since he was indicted in U.S. courts in February on drug and racketeering charges.

The news conference was held after an opposition leader jailed for his anti-Noriega activities flew into exile and amid threats of a new wave of street protest and strikes because of the U.S.-engineered economic crisis.

Wallis told the news conference at Panama's G-2 military intelligence headquarters he was recruted about six weeks ago by sergeants John Jacobs and Ray Thomas of U.S. military counterintelligence.

He said he was arrested in Panama City on Saturday night as he left for Chiriqui province, near the border of Costa Rica, where he had been ordered to look into reports that Cuban advisers were training Panamanian soldiers at a military base.

Wallis said he also had instructions to organize a group of 30 guerrillas who could carry out urban attacks and sabotage on the Panama Canal.

The action, he said, would help justify U.S. intervention to protect the vital waterway. The United States is primarily responsible for defense of the canal until the year 2000 when it reverts to Panamanian control.