Murder trial postponed for Suriname's president

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2010 12:53 PM
Murder trial postponed for Suriname's president

The murder trial for Suriname's former dictator resumed Friday for the first time since he returned to power as the elected president, but the judge postponed it again after none of the defense witnesses appeared to testify.

Desi Bouterse and 11 associates are charged in the December 1982 slaying of 15 politicians, journalists and others who opposed his military dictatorship.

Bouterse, who completed a political comeback with his inauguration in August, did not attend the hearing on a naval base outside the capital. But he has vowed he will not interfere in the trial, which has progressed slowly since it began in November 2007.

Defense attorney Irwin Kanhai said that none of his 19 witnesses _ including former government and military officials living in the Netherlands _ were available to testify. Prosecutors already have presented their evidence.

The judge, Cynthia Valstein-Montnor, postponed the trial until Nov. 19. She warned that the defense team would not have unlimited opportunities to call witnesses.

In the past, Bouterse has accepted "political responsibility" for the so-called December killings while denying a direct role. As president he is not required to testify, and if convicted he could potentially engineer a pardon and avoid a 20-year sentence.

The victims were allegedly taken by soldiers to Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo and shot one by one. Two days after the killings, Bouterse said in a televised statement that the 15 men had been shot while trying to flee police detention.

A longtime opposition leader in Suriname, Bouterse was elected president by a parliamentary vote in July. His coalition won a majority of the popular vote in May elections due to widespread dissatisfaction with the economy, and he negotiated with other parties to secure the two-thirds support needed for the presidency.