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A crucial new phase of the U. The elite troops, who bring a deliberately low profile to a region that only last week was patrolled by more than 2, heavily armed infantrymen, say they have been told to plan to remain in the countryside for as long as six months.
Their challenge, in what U. Here, forces that once controlled rural districts like fiefdoms continue to instill wariness among citizens in provincial capitals such as this one. An otherwise celebratory community gathering here over the weekend had undercurrents of tension while the traditional accordion-led band played a newly popular local tune urging los gringos to stay in Chitre.
The high school headmaster installed by the United States as both the civilian and military governor told a visitor that the old days of PDF dominance are over. Dreher Kinney, second in command of the Green Beret mission, in an interview at the Panamanian military base in Rio Hato that now serves as the U. The lingering wariness comes on the heels of a virtually bloodless initial U. Outside of Rio Hato, the site of a major battle, Panamanian garrisons almost without exception surrendered in place as helicopter-borne U.
While the most notorious of the Noriega-appointed PDF commanders were jailed, nearly all of their subordinates were kept in place.
And that has left a troublesome legacy as the U. This city of more than 70, remains without even a provisional mayor in what Army Col. Lin Burney, the commander of the initial occupation force in the interior, described as one of the most striking examples of apathy among Panamanians wary about moving too quickly to take power from the former military bosses. In this charged environment, the eight-man Green Beret unit assigned full time to the province serves as a buffer between the emerging civilian institutions and the newly incarnated Panamanian Public Force, many of whose members continue to wear their old Panama Defense Forces combat fatigues and draw blank stares from civilians as they patrol downtown streets.