From firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Nov 9 14:21:52 2000
Date: Wed, 8 Nov 2000 21:53:38 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: SURINAME: Coup Rumours as Govt. Probes 1980s Army Rule
GEORGETOWN, Nov 7 (IPS)—Strong weekend rumours of an impending coup in neighbouring Suriname, have added to the worries of the 10-week- old Ronald Venetiaan administration as it struggles to set things right in the former Dutch colony on South America's Caribbean coast.
It inherited an empty treasury, a bloated civil service and put itself under enormous pressure by pledging to take judicial action against former army officers accused of killing 15 leading citizens in the early 1980s, at the height of military rule.
Even before it settles down, President Venetiaan's government has been forced to take notice of reports that former military dictator and two-time coup maker, Desi Bouterse, is planning to overthrow an elected government yet again.
The 56-year-old Bouterse, who has been elected to the 51-seat national assembly for the first time, is the main target of a government probe into the 1982 executions of 15 critics of his then military regime.
The incident took place at Fort Zeelandia, an army centre near the Surinamese Cabinet Office almost three years after the Bouterse- led military had deposed an elected government.
He has denied charges that he presided over the murders, saying that
he took responsibility only because he was head of government and the
military at that time.
I was not personally involved, he says.
But over the weekend, the 64-year old Venetiaan and his 16- member cabinet, were forced to react to Dutch newspaper reports that Bouterse is hatching a coup plot with the help of indigenous Amerindians living in Suriname's thick forests.
Andre Haakmat, a former prime minister in the days of military rule, told Dutch newspapers that Bouterse feels cornered by the current investigations into the murders and is preparing to strike back if necessary.
Bouterse has denied the reports. He says he backs the official probe into the 1982 executions as a means of closing a sad chapter in the history of Suriname, a country of 450,000 people.
Supporters of the former military ruler accuse Haakmat of trying to create trouble for a former friend. Haakmat fled to The Netherlands in the 1980s after he fell out with Bouterse.
Nevertheless, Venetiaan, whose four-party ruling coalition is made up of groups that were victims of the two coups in 1980 and 1990, is taking no chances. The administration has placed the army on alert and has asked the top military leadership for a pledge of support.
Meanwhile, judicial authorities in Suriname are racing against time to ensure a formal start to judicial proceedings against those accused of the 1982 executions. Under the country's 18-year statute of limitations, this must be done by Dec. 8.
All this is diverting the government's attention from another big promise to voters—arresting and reversing the economic decline. Since elections in May, the exchange value of the Surinamese Guilder against the U.S. dollar, has plunged from 1,700 to 3,000.
Government officials are talking with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to implement a tough austerity programme. Suriname is also negotiating with its former coloniser, for the restoration of sizeable Dutch aid.
The Dutch financial support was cut off during the first seven years of military rule in the 1980s and again after the second coup. A Dutch court has also convicted Bouterse of international cocaine trafficking.
The former dictator draws much of his support from Amerindians living in the forests of Suriname and often boasts of having Amerindian blood himself. The indigenous people fought alongside his army in the 1980s.
After the 1996 elections, he was able to put together a four- party coalition that ran the country until it was badly defeated in the May polls. He now heads the 10-member Millennium Combination in parliament.