A former U.S. senator said Tuesday that invading U.S. forces in Panama allegedly executed hundreds of innocent civilians and buried many of the dead in unmarked, mass graves.

Donald Stewart, one of Alabama's senators from 1978 to 1980, said he learned of the alleged atrocities in conversations with scores of Panamanian civilians during a six-day visit to the Central American country in August.Stewart called for a congressional investigation into the killings of all Panamanian civilians by U.S. forces during the December 1989 invasion to oust strongman Manuel Noriega.

Stewart, who has worked as a lawyer since he left the Senate, estimated the civilian death toll to be three times the estimate of 250 given by U.S. officials.

Stewart said he was told of children and the disabled dying in bombed and burning homes, frightened civilians shot to death at checkpoints, and U.S. forces offering $6 a body and burying the civilian dead in mass, unmarked graves. Stewart said he could not independently verify the accounts.

``These claims are not based on anything other than my conversations with the people in Panama,' Stewart said in an interview.

An account of his trip to Panama was reported in the latest edition of the United Methodist Reporter.

``I found out something I was not prepared to believe: We murdered innocent civilians, buried them in our body bags in unmarked graves and tried to pretend that we hadn't,' Stewart was quoted as saying.

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