Amnesty may end Suriname president's murder trial

PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) — Lawmakers in Suriname have proposed an amnesty law that would end the long-running trial of President Desi Bouterse, who is accused along with former military associates of abducting and killing opponents of his dictatorship in 1982.

Members of Bouterse's Mega Combination introduced the legislation Monday, and Andre Misiekaba, the party's whip, predicted in an interview on state television Tuesday it would pass the parliament by the end of the week.

The bill amends an earlier amnesty law to include any offenses "in the context of the defense of the state," between April 1, 1980, and Aug. 19, 1992. That time frame would encompass the country's military dictatorship and civil war.

Bouterse became president in a parliamentary vote in 2010, but he was a military dictator for much of the 1980s. He and his supporters in the military are accused of arresting 15 prominent opposition leaders, including journalists, lawyers and a trade union leader, and executing them in a colonial fort in the capital, Paramaribo.

Legal proceedings against Bouterse and 24 associates began in November 2007 but have been repeatedly stalled by legal challenges, the unavailability of witnesses and general disorganization in the legal system in the former Dutch colony on the northeastern coast of South America.

Sunil Oemrawsingh, whose uncle was among those killed by the dictatorship, said he and other victims' relatives are consulting with lawyers and members of the political opposition to block the legislation or overturn it if it passes.

"It is our obligation to the children and the loved ones of those who were murdered and to the rule of law in Suriname," Oemrawsingh said.

Bouterse has loomed over Surinamese politics for three decades. He first came to power in 1980, when he led a coup that saw the constitution suspended and parliament dissolved just five years after independence. Under international pressure he allowed the return of civilian rule in 1987, only to launch a second coup in 1990. Even after stepping down as army chief in 1992, he has remained a powerful force.

In 1999, he was convicted in a Dutch court of trafficking cocaine from Suriname to the Netherlands, but he has avoided an 11-year prison sentence because he can't be extradited under Surinamese law.