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Ex-Suriname head faces murder trial
Former military ruler condemns charges as "propaganda" as trial resumes.
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2009 23:26 GMT

Bouterse told Al Jazeera the case was being used
by the current leadership of Suriname

Desi Bouterse, the former military ruler of Suriname, has condemned his trial over the murders of 15 political opponents as "propaganda".

Bouterse and 11 others are accused of executing 15 political opponents after he seized the presidency in 1982.

Bouterse was scheduled to make his first appearance in court on Friday but did not attend the hearing. 

And the former ruler told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview that the trial was being used as political "propaganda".

"They are trying to prove that I kill people, I always said I take the political responsibility -  that doesn't mean I did something wrong," he said.

Bouterse has also said he will stand in the country's presidential elections next year despite the court case.

Suriname, the smallest nation in South America, gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975, but has been wracked by civil wars and a succession of military coups, beginning in 1980.

In 1987, Bouterse relinquished power and a new civil constitution was approved by 97 per cent of voters.

But Bouterse retained control of the military and in 1990, he re-took power from the civilian government in another coup before the civil authorities regained power a year later.

Controversial incident

Ronald Venetiaan, the president of Suriname, says Bourtese must be defeated

The so-called December massacre in 1982 remains one of the most controversial events in the nation's history.

Thirteen civilians and two military officials who opposed Bouterse's military rule in Suriname were executed in Fort Zeelandia in the Suriname capital, Paramaribo, shortly after the military seized power, reportedly by soldiers who would have been under Bouterse's command.

The circumstances surrounded the killings remain murky, and it has taken relatives of those killed decades to push for a trial.

Bouterse said the case was being used by those now in power to prevent him from running for office again and for their own political gain.

"We have had six coup attempts but you only hear of December 1982. But do you know why we know of only 1982? Because those who are in power now at that time had suffered heavy losses," he said.

'Truth commission'

Bouterse said he had himself requested a formal investigation into the deaths and asked to establish a truth commission "to clear up everything once and for all so that we can move forward."

However Ronald Venetiaan, the current president of Suriname, told Al Jazeera that Bouterse should not be permitted to regain power in next year's elections.

"We must make sure he is defeated and never enters politics again," he said.

Meanwhile Yasser Riedewald, whose father was killed in the 1982 massacre, told Al Jazeera he just wanted to know what happened to his father.

"I do not expect them to tell the truth but at least there are the witnesses who know what happened," he said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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