A U.S. soldier has been detained on suspicion of killing a Panamanian woman.
Sgt. Omar Velez was being held at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Monday in connection with the murder of a young woman whose body was found in central Panama on June 23. Velez had not yet been charged, but will likely be brought before a U.S. military court, U.S. Southern Command spokesman Kimberly Hanson said.
Velez was in Panama conducting training as part of a unit associated with the sale of military equipment when the killing occurred. Local media report that Velez had been romantically involved with the woman and was discovered near her body with a shovel after an apparent crime of passion.
The body was found on a farm near a river embankment, close to where a firearms training session was being held, according to Panamanian officials.
Some Panamanians are outraged that the soldier's diplomatic immunity protects him from local prosecution. At least one Panamanian organization is calling for a local trial.
Relations between Panama and the United States have historically snared over issues of sovereignty, and the incident threatens to stir old resentments.
A current of anti-American feeling still runs through the country more than a decade after the U.S. turned over control of the Panama Canal, said Paul Sutter, who teaches history at the University of Colorado at Boulder. A century of U.S. jurisdiction over the canal and its surrounding area struck many in the country as a vestige of colonial days, and the Americans' imperious behavior made the situation worse, Sutter said. The tensions led to riots in the 1960s.
The U.S. Army has expressed its "deepest regret" over the woman's death, and pledged to fully investigate the killing.