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Noriega is flown home to complete prison sentence

Former military strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega was flown home to Panama yesterday to be punished once again for crimes he committed during a career that saw him transformed from a close Cold War ally of Washington's to the vilified target of a US invasion.

Noriega left Orly airport, south of Paris, on a flight on Spain's Iberia airline, delivered directly to the aircraft by a four-car convoy from the French capital's La Santé prison. The flight left just after 8am for Madrid.

Noriega's return comes after more than 20 years in US and French prisons for drug trafficking and money laundering. Panama convicted him during his captivity overseas for the slayings of two political opponents in the 1980s.

He was sentenced to 20 years in each case, and Panamanian officials say he will be sent straight to a jail cell when he lands. He could eventually leave prison under a law allowing prisoners over 70 to serve out their time under house arrest.

"He was very impatient, very happy. He's going home," one of his French lawyers, Antonin Levy, said by telephone on Saturday night, a day after his last visit with Noriega. AP