Saturday, July 05, 2008

Former Suriname Leader Was Present for 1982 Political Killings, Says Witnesses

Suriname ex-dictator was present for political killings: witnesses

Saturday, July 5

PARAMARIBO (AFP) - - Witnesses told a court martial Friday that Suriname's ex-dictator Desi Bouterse was present at the killings of 15 political opponents more than two decades ago.

The first witnesses to testify before the court martial against Bouterse and 24 other suspects on charges of the killings at a military fort in 1982, said the former dictator was there on the day of the shootings, despite his denials.

"Bouterse was there," said Flohr Unno, a former bodyguard, who recalled seeing the victims enter Fort Zeelandia where they were rounded up, tortured and shot on December 8, 1982.

Eleonore Geer-Brakke, Bouterse's ex-secretary, also testified that Bouterse was at the fort.

Other witnesses testified seeing Bouterse's bodyguards, hearing guns being fired during the day and seeing body bags and blood all over the place.

"It was harrowing to hear the testimonies," said Henry Behr, brother of victim Bram Behr.

The former dictator, 62, has staunchly denied any involvement in the killings, saying he was not present at the Fort Zeelandia military base at the time of the shootings.

He accepted political responsibility and offered his apologies to the families of the victims for the first time last year February.

Bouterse took power in a military coup in 1980, and after stepping down in 1987 briefly seized power again in a 1991 bloodless takeover.

In 1999, he was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands for cocaine smuggling, but he has remained free because Suriname does not extradite its citizens.

He is now the leader of the country's largest opposition party, the National Democratic Party, which has asked parliament in vain to grant an amnesty to all those involved in the 1980s killings.

On Saturday, July 5th, his party will proclaim the joint venture with five minor opposition parties, including that of ex-president Jules Wijdenbosh.

Government critics believe that this opposition combination will be another attempt for Bouterse to win 2010 elections and so halting the trial.

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