A court in Suriname on Friday convicted President Desi Bouterse of murder for the execution of 15 opponents in 1982 following a coup to seize power, sentencing the man who has dominated the former Dutch colony’s recent history to 20 years in prison, Trend reports citing Reuters.
Opposition parties called for Bouterse, currently in China on an official visit, to step down. The military court that found him guilty has not yet ordered his arrest.
Bouterse led the South American country through the 1980s as head of a military government, then assumed office again in 2010 and secured re-election five years later.
The court ruled that Bouterse had overseen an operation in which soldiers under his command abducted 16 leading government critics - including lawyers, journalists and university teachers - from their homes and killed 15 of them at a colonial fortress in the capital Paramaribo.
One trade union leader survived and later gave testimony against Bouterse.
Bouterse, who has steadfastly denied the charges, is able to appeal the decision. So far he has made no comment on his conviction and he is expected to travel to Cuba, as planned, on Saturday.
In a statement, the Surinamese government said it had “taken note of the developments and calls on the community to keep the peace.”
The Dutch government said it was important that the final verdict be upheld and implemented once the appeals process is complete. “This is an important moment for determining the truth. After 37 years, the relatives have an answer,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said on Twitter.