Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has broken his silence in a jailhouse interview with a local TV channel. The 81-year-old asked to be forgiven, but did not specify any abuses.
Noriega began the interview, which was conducted in prison, by reading a statement he had prepared after talking to his family and members of the church
"Before the altar of my conscience I've come to express myself in the spirit of forgiveness," the former military dictator said, his hand shaking but otherwise appearing in good health for his 81 years.
He said he had had plenty of time to reflect in jail and came to the conclusion that it was appropriate to ask for forgiveness. But he refused to answer questions on any specific abuses and did not offer any clarification on the still unresolved disappearance of two opponents.
Referring to himself as the "last general of the military era," Noriega apologized to those "offended, affected, injured or humiliated" by his own actions or those of his superiors and subordinates during Panama's military regime.
Panama was under military rule from the late 1960s until the US invasion in 1989, which many Panamaians supported.
A one-time US ally and CIA informant, Noriega was the de-facto military ruler of Panama from 1983 to 1989. The US operation "Just Cause" ousted him in 1989, and in 1992, he was tried and convicted of drug and racketeering charges in a US court. Noriega had been heavily involved in Colombia's Medellin drug cartel.
In 2010, he was extradited to France, where he served time for money laundering.
He returned to Panama in 2011 to complete a 60-year sentence for murder, corruption and embezzlement during the military's three-decade rule. Among the atrocities he was involved in or was responsible for is the violent suppression of public protests and the 1989 Albrook massacre that saw 12 people executed for their part in a coup attempt.
Noriega had not spoken to a journalist since his 1996 interview with CNN's Larry King, which took place in a Miami prison.
ng/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)