Paramaribo – An arrest warrant has been issued for Suriname’s ex-president Desi Bouterse, who has refused to surrender to start serving a 20-year prison sentence for the murder of political opponents more than four decades ago, police said Wednesday.
A warrant for the “search and capture” of Bouterse, 78, comes after the South American country’s highest court last month upheld his conviction for the execution of 15 people lawyers, journalists, businessmen and military personnel in December 1982.
This was two years after he took power in a coup d’etat.
Bouterse was meant to turn himself in last Friday but after he failed to show up, his wife, Ingrid, told journalists he had no intention of surrendering.
“You all know that this is a political process and we are giving a political answer,” she said.
Bouterse, a former strongman who led two coups and also served as an elected president of the former Dutch colony until 2020, had remained free awaiting the outcome of his case.
He was not in court for the judgment in his appeal hearing, which closed 16 years of criminal proceedings.
Three of four other people found guilty along with him did turn themselves in last week.
Police on Wednesday published an old photo of the ex-president on its website, giving a physical description of his person and asking for information that would lead to his capture.
It also issued an arrest warrant for Bouterse’s former bodyguard and co-accused, Iwan Dijksteel.
The government has built an isolated detention cell for Bouterse at the Suriname Military Hospital complex, some 10 minutes aways from downtown Paramaribo and near a hospital in case he needs medical treatment.
But he never turned up there, the prosecuting authority said in a statement Wednesday. In a subsequent search of their homes, neither Bouterse nor Dijksteel could be found.
Prosecutors said they would also seek an international warrant for the fugitive ex-president.
Supporters of Bouterse, who remains very popular notably with the country’s poor and working class, gathered at his house last week, singing and dancing to show their support.
His National Democratic Party (NDP) has also backed his decision not to surrender.
Bouterse, a soldier, staged a coup on February 25, 1980. Known for his eloquence, he initially acted as a spokesman but soon took over the military regime, promoting himself to commander-in-chief and de facto ruler.
He has denied involvement in the 1982 killings, saying the victims had been held for plotting a counter-coup with the help of the CIA, and were shot while trying to escape.
Bouterse stepped down in 1987 but returned to power in 1990 through a bloodless coup by making a simple phone call to the then-president.
In 1999, a court in the Netherlands Suriname’s former colonial ruler sentenced Bouterse to 11 years in prison in absentia for cocaine smuggling, another charge he denies.
He was later elected and served as president of Suriname from 2010 until 2020, a position which protected him from extradition.
Last year, Bouterse urged his supporters not to cause “chaos,” vowing that “we will hold out until the 2025 elections.”
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