Noriega, left, is wanted back in Panama where he will serve a 20-year sentence for rights abuses [EPA]

A French court has granted a conditional release for Panama's former president to be extradited to his country to serve a 20-year prison sentence for human-rights abuses.

The release for the 77-year-old Manuel Noriega, who was overthrown in a 1989 US invasion and has been serving a seven-year sentence in France for money laundering in French bank accounts, was granted on Friday.

Noriega began his French sentence, passed in 1999, last year and had been jailed for 20 years in US prison for drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.

Panamanian media reported that special cells had been prepared for Noriega at a penitentiary near Panama City.

A law in Panama lets prisoners above the age of 70 serve sentences under house arrest, although this is subject to a judge's approval.

Yves Leberquier, Noriega's lawyer, said his French release would be effective on October 1, but this could be delayed by a second extradition request filed by Panama relating to separate criminal charges.

France had informed Noriega on July 29 that he would be extradited to Panama, where he has been sentenced to three 20-year sentences for killings during his dictatorship.

Those sentences will be served concurrently, according to his lawyer.

The lawyer said Noriega is keen to return to Panama as soon as possible.

"We want the first extradition request to be executed and we are asking the prosecutor to proceed with it," he said.

Noriega was born into poverty but muscled his way to the top of Panama's military and became the Central American country's de facto ruler until the 1989 invasion. US troops caught him and flew him to a Miami court for trial.

After serving 20 years in US prison he was sent to France, where he had been sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail for laundering money in French bank accounts and properties in the 1980s.

Source: Agencies