Blow to Surinamese president in murder trial

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Surinamese President Desi Bouterse was in the building when troops under his command murdered 15 political opponents in 1982, according to Ruben Rozendaal, a member of the so-called ‘Group of 16’ army officers behind the 1980 coup. Mr Rozendaal’s statement in court comes as a blow to President Bouterse, who is chief suspect in the long-running trial in the ‘December Murders’ case.

Until now, the members of the Group of 16 have claimed they couldn’t remember where Mr Bouterse was when the executions were carried out. Now Mr Rozendaal has broken the silence in court and called on President Bouterse to reveal the truth about the events of 8 December 1982.

Breakthrough
Mr Rozendaal’s testimony on the final day of the military hearing on Friday did not come entirely as a surprise, as he had made similar remarks in an interview in the Surinamese magazine Parbode earlier this year. Explaining a previous statement that he did not know the whereabouts of President Bouterse, when the murders took place, he said “He is surrounded by idiots and madmen. So I really wasn’t going to say, ‘Bouterse was there’.”

“This could be a breakthrough,” says Eddy Wijngaarde, brother of murdered journalist Frank Wijngaarde, Dutch daily de Volkskrant reports. “Rozendaal’s statement has hit Suriname like a bomb,” says Henk Kamperveen, son of the former minister Ampie Kamperveen, another victim of the murders.

Desi Bouterse led the 1980 coup in Suriname five years after the South American country gained its independence from the Netherlands. He headed Suriname’s military government until 1988. In 1999 he was sentenced in his absence to an 11-year jail term in the Netherlands for drug trafficking. Despite his controversial past, he was elected as president of Suriname in 2010.

(mb/nc/imm)

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