March 24, 2001

Panama lists names of military rule's victims

                  PANAMA CITY, Panama (Reuters) -- The Panama Truth Commission on
                  Saturday published the names of 132 people who were killed or disappeared
                  during the country's 21-year military dictatorship.

                  The list, printed in a full page announcement in the national press, involved
                  victims of human rights abuses from a 1968 military coup to the 1989 U.S.
                  invasion that ousted Gen. Manuel Noriega.

                  It identified labor, student and peasant activists and two Catholic priests.

                  "The names included in the list are preliminary, (published) with the aim of
                  speeding up the search for information," the announcement said.

                  Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso formed the commission in January to
                  investigate scores of deaths and disappearances after the discovery of a fourth
                  set of human remains during exhumations at a former military base near Panama

                  The seven-member panel will conduct interviews and search for graves and
                  other evidence before delivering a report to the president in September. Its
                  findings also will be passed on to the attorney general for potential prosecutions.

                  Exhumation triggers search

                  The search for victims of the Panama Defense Forces' rule gathered force in
                  September 1999, after government investigators turned up two sets of human
                  remains during an exhumation at a former military base at Tocumen, on the
                  western outskirts of the capital.

                  The grim find, following an anonymous tip to the Catholic Church from a former
                  high-ranking military officer, spurred hopes among victims' families.

                  Not knowing where the remains of their relatives lie is a constant source of
                  suffering for survivors, said Federico Britton, whose brother Floyd, a teacher,
                  was beaten to death by guards at Coiba prison in 1969 and dumped in an
                  unmarked grave.

                  "We hope that the list will lead to an investigation ... so that we can find out the
                  truth and see that justice is done," Britton, coordinator of the Committee for the
                  Families of the Disappeared, told Reuters.

                  The commission in the coming weeks plans to search for clandestine cemeteries
                  in Panama's western Chiriqui province, aided by a group of Argentine forensic

                  "We want to find the remains so that the families can bury their dead and clear
                  up what happened," said panel member Otelia Tejeira de Koster.

                      Copyright 2001 Reuters.