Suriname moves to conscript soldiers

Desi Bouterse.
AP Photo/Edward Troon

Suriname’s multiparty coalition government is preparing to do what federal officials in the U.S. and counterparts in Europe can’t accomplish by moving to enlist youngsters in the military through conscription.

The administration of former military strongman and now freely elected President Desi Delano Bouterse says forced enlistment in the Caribbean trade bloc nation’s army, coast guard and air wing is as certain as night follows day even though there are still gaping and open raw wounds from the 1980-87 period when the military ran the country.

“It is certain that military conscription will be reintroduced,” Defense Minister Lamoure Latour said this week, noting that drafts of the bill are to be introduced in the 51 seat National Assembly shortly. “One thing is certain. Like it or not, conscription will be reintroduced,” he said.

Exactly who will be targeted for enlistment is unclear and so is the duration of the time conscripts will be forced to serve.

Rights and opposition groups have criticized the move saying there is no need for enforced conscription as it harks back to the seven-year period when Bouterse and the military ran the country, when the economy virtually collapsed and when Western nations including The Netherlands and France had openly financed a six-year “bush war” that claimed the lives of more than 500 people as the West had tried to dislodge the military from power in Suriname.

Latour, according the De Ware Tijd newspaper, the country’s leading daily, says draft bill has been sent to the ministry of justice and police for early comments and adjustments. The state council and cabinet will next get their chances to pore over it and then the legislature where Bouterse’s Mega Combination has an easy majority of the legislative seats.

“It is a totally new strategy We live in different times, so we have to adapt old laws,” Minister Latour contends, noting that skills training will be a key aspect of the tenure as well as skill utilization for national use during conscription. “Preparations are in full swing, but it’s not up to us alone. It is an ‘adapted’ legislation.”

To many in the middle class and the conservative old guard Bouterse is viewed as a polarizing figure because he was leader of the February 1980 coup and because he had allegedly ordered the execution of 15 government critics in December 1982.

He has said that he is only trying to keep a campaign promise to reintroduce conscription. One thing is certain that the opposition is likely to oppose the bill when debate starts in the coming weeks.

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