Witness: Suriname ex-dictator at execution scene

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2009 3:21 PM

The murder trial of a former South American dictator resumed Tuesday after a monthlong delay, with a witness placing him at the scene where 15 political opponents were executed 27 years ago.

Sali Blik, a former cameraman for a state-owned television station, testified that he saw Desi Bouterse at a military fort sitting beside one of the victims after forcing him to make a statement on camera hours before the man was shot.

Bouterse is accused of ordering the executions of four lawyers, four journalists, two university lecturers, two military officers, two businessmen and a labor leader in December 1982. Eleven other people also face charges in the killings.

Blik is one of few witnesses to place Bouterse at Fort Zeelandia, the site of the killings.

Onno Flohr, a member of the firing squad, testified last year that Bouterse was present during the executions but did not kill anyone.

The army maintained it shot at opponents because they tried to escape from the fort where they were being held after being detained by Bouterse's security forces, but all those who testified Tuesday dismissed the explanation.

"Why do they have gunshot wounds on their chests and heads?" asked witness Heydi de Miranda. "You would have been shot in the back."

De Miranda was married to radio journalist Frank Wijngaarde, who was among those killed. She said her husband had criticized Bouterse's regime but was never involved in subversive activities.

The trial began more than a year ago and has been delayed for numerous reasons, including witnesses who fail to appear in court.

Bouterse, who was not in court Tuesday, has denied direct involvement, though he made a public apology in 2007 and accepted political responsibility for the killings.

Bouterse seized control of Suriname in 1980, five years after it gained independence from the Netherlands. He stepped down in 1987 and briefly seized power again in 1990.

He remains chairman of Suriname's main opposition party.