Panama President denies seeking US' help for 'wiretapping' political opponents

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Washington, Dec 27 (ANI): Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli has denied that he had pressed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to help install phone taps on his political opponents, which is alleged in a recently released WikiLeaks document.

The BBC quoted the leaked cables as saying that Panama and Paraguay are two of the nations who sought wiretapping services.

In a cable from August 2009, President Martinelli is reported to have "sent the ambassador a cryptic Blackberry message that said: 'I need help with tapping phones'".

Meanwhile, the Panamanian president's office has issued a statement saying that the government regrets the misunderstanding by the US authorities, and added that the request for assistance was made for "the struggle against crime, drug trafficking and organised crime".

The then US ambassador to Panama, Barbara Stephenson, said that the President had made reference to various groups and individuals whom he believes should be wiretapped.

"He clearly made no distinction between legitimate security targets and political enemies," she added.

A cable from February 2010 shows the DEA trying to resist a request by the government in Asuncion to spy on the Paraguayan People's Army insurgent group, accused of a number of kidnappings. It further said that when US diplomats refused to pay much heed to it, Paraguay Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola threatened to shut down DEA operations in Paraguay.

Diplomats finally agreed to allow wiretapping for anti-kidnapping work under certain circumstances.

"We have carefully navigated this very sensitive and politically sticky situation. It appears that we have no other viable choice," a cable says. (ANI)

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