SAN JUAN – A military court sentenced Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse on Friday to 20 years in prison over the killings of 15 political opponents in 1982, court officials reported.
As soon as the verdict was known, the opposition called for the resignation of Bouterse, who is in China and scheduled to travel to Cuba on Saturday.
The court has not yet ordered his arrest, according to court officials, who said that Bouterse can appeal the verdict.
The government said in a statement that it had taken note of the decision taken by the military court and called for peace in the country, a former Dutch colony.
In the first reactions pouring in after the ruling, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok posted on Twitter a joint declaration from the heads of mission accredited to Suriname of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The statement commended the court and said it was “critical” that the final verdict after the appeals process be “implemented and upheld in accordance with the rule of law.”
“The verdict will undoubtedly prove instrumental in helping the nation move towards reconciliation,” the statement added.
Bouterse led a group of 16 army sergeants in a violent military coup d’etat in February 1980 to overthrow the Henck Arron government and become the country’s de facto leader.
Months later, in August of that year, he also managed to remove president Johan Ferrier, who was succeeded by Henk R. Chin A Sen, and established a National Military Council.
Differences between the civilian government and the armed forces arose in 1981 owing to an attempt to reduce the power of the military and led to the resignation of Chin A Sen in February 1982.
A provisional constitution was approved that year, under which the government was elected by the NMC.
Bouterse held the country’s presidency for days on two occasions, following the 1980 coup and after the president’s resignation in 1982.
Following a succession of clashes and uprisings, violently suppressed by the military, on Dec. 8, 1982, 15 opponents of the military regime were executed in Fort Zeelandia in the capital, Paramaribo, a case for which Bouterse was convicted on Friday.
He was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2015.