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Former Suriname Dictator Missing After Failing To Turn Himself In To Prison

Surinamese authorities are searching for ex-president Dési Bouterse after he failed to turn himself in to start a prison sentence for involvement in the murder of 15 political opponents in 1982, the prosecutor general’s office said on Friday.

Bouterse was ordered this week to report to jail, but his wife, Ingrid Bouterse-Waldring, told journalists outside their home early on Friday: “He’s not going to turn himself in.”

Authorities on Wednesday had ordered Bouterse and four others convicted in the case to report to various prisons by Friday. Only three have done so. They were in frail health and shuffled slowly toward a prison’s entrance as reporters followed them.

By late Friday afternoon, the 78-year-old Bouterse had not yet appeared, prompting the office of the prosecutor to issue a one-sentence statement saying they were investigating those who had not reported to jail.

Earlier, dozens of backers of Bouterse and the National Democratic party he chairs arrived at his house to show their support, with some yelling at journalists and playing loud music, prompting government officials to tighten security measures.

“All necessary steps will be taken to ensure that the safety of both those involved and the wider society is guaranteed,” the government said in a statement.

Spokesperson Ricardo Panka said the party disagreed with the sentencing and noted that Bouterse will remain as chair. But, he said, the crowd had been ordered to remain calm.

“We are not going to create an angry mob to go against the authorities,” he said.

Bouterse was sentenced on 20 December after being found guilty in the killings, ending a historic 16-year legal process. He had previously been sentenced in 2019 and 2021 but appealed both rulings.

A new team of lawyers filed an appeal on Monday against the sentencing on grounds that an amnesty law Bouterse unsuccessfully tried to push through more than a decade ago would apply, but Suriname’s attorney general rejected the move on Tuesday.

“The public prosecutor’s office has started the process of tracing those convicted in the December 8 criminal case who have not reported to the penal institution as stated in the order for execution of sentences,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Bouterse dominated politics in the former Dutch colony for decades and left office in 2020.

Bouterse led a bloodless coup to become dictator from 1980 to 1987. During that time, he and two dozen other suspects were accused of executing prominent people including lawyers, journalists and a university professor at a colonial fortress in the capital of Paramaribo.

Bouterse has accepted “political responsibility” for the 1982 killings but insists he was not present.

He was later democratically elected as president from 2010 to 2020.

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