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Fragile Peace Plan in Suriname Tests Government's Control Over Army

September 03, 1989|SUSANA HAYWARD | Associated Press

PARAMARIBO, Suriname — A fragile accord setting out conditions for ending Suriname's 3-year-old guerrilla war is testing the civilian government's authority over the army, which previously ruled the former Dutch colony.

The government of President Ramsewak Shankar signed a preliminary accord with the warring Jungle Commando in July, despite the army's objections that the agreement failed to disarm the guerrillas and could place too much power in the hands of rebel leader Ronny Brunswijk.

Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse, the armed forces chief who ruled the Georgia-sized nation on South America's northeast shoulder for seven years until elections in November, 1987, says that if the government insists on implementing the agreement, it will do so without the army's help.

'Who Is in Charge?'

The outcome of the dispute could help answer a question residents of Suriname have long been asking: Who is running the country, the government or the army?

"The agreement is testing the obedience of the military," human-rights activist Stanley Rensch said in an interview. "We are facing a rather complicated and dangerous situation."

Since fighting broke out in July, 1986, at least 300 people have been killed, dozens of villages destroyed and crucial bauxite and aluminum mining disrupted. An estimated 7,000 Bush Negroes, also known as Maroons, have fled to refugee camps in neighboring French Guiana after repeated raids by soldiers flushing out guerrilla sympathizers.

The war began as a personal feud between Bouterse, 42, a former physical education teacher, and Brunswijk, 28, a Cuban-trained soldier who wears dreadlocks and gold chains and once served as Bouterse's bodyguard.

Political Dimensions

Over the years, however, the insurgency assumed political dimensions, with Brunswijk, a Bush Negro, demanding democratic reforms, civil rights and economic development for the country's 50,000 to 60,000 Bush Negroes.

Bush Negroes, the descendants of runaway African slaves, inhabit the rugged eastern interior, where the fighting has been concentrated. Suriname, South America's only Dutch-speaking country, has a total population of 400,000.

Long-stalled peace talks bore fruit after a period of heightened tension, culminating in the rebel seizure of Suriname's main hydroelectric plant June 1. The rebels had threatened to blow up the power plant and part of Afobaka Dam, flooding the capital of Paramaribo, unless the government agreed to direct negotiations with the Jungle Commando. The rebels withdrew, however, after 36 hours, on Brunswijk's orders.

A Tentative Peace

After talks June 7-8 on the French Guianese island of Portal, a delegation from Suriname's National Assembly and Brunswijk's Jungle Commando reached agreement on a tentative peace proposal. The government signed the pact July 21 and it was approved by the full National Assembly on Aug. 7.

The accord declared the intention of both sides to end hostilities but stopped short of calling for a cease-fire. Nevertheless, only minor skirmishes have been reported since it was signed.

Among the agreed conditions for a permanent peace are an emergency aid program to rebuild Bush Negro villages, an end to a state of emergency in the eastern part of the country and the return of refugees to Suriname.

The most contentious issue, however, stipulates that Brunswijk's 200 to 300 guerrillas would not have to give up their weapons and would be transformed into a special security unit to patrol an interior region making up two-thirds of the country.

Unconstitutional Force

Bouterse says such a force would be unconstitutional, split the nation and make Brunswijk the de facto ruler of the interior. Moreover, the army demands the Jungle Commando be disbanded and forced to turn in its weapons.

"As long as the Jungle Commando is not brought under the central authority of the government, no other arrangements are possible," Bouterse told reporters recently.

Although Bouterse insists that he is not trying to subvert the agreement, his opposition puts the army in direct conflict with a government it has never fully trusted.

"We are feeling like the government is the enemy of the National Army," said Maj. Badrissein Sital, commander of the 2,500-man force.

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