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Lubbers confirms that Dutch planned to invade Suriname

MONDAY, 22 NOVEMBER 2010 00:28

Suriname not shaken by revelation PARAMARIBO, Suriname--Suriname's Foreign Minister Winston Lackin has placed question marks on the timing of former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers' revelation that Holland had planned to invade Suriname in 1986. "I wonder why they're coming with this now," Lackin was quoted as saying in the local press. "We always said that Holland had planned an invasion of Suriname in the 1980s, but no one believed it and now Holland itself is telling the story. But we will not be sidetracked by this now. We're busy with the development of our country." Lackin was reacting to a story in last Saturday's Dutch daily De Volkskrant in which Lubbers admitted that the Netherlands had been planning the invasion of Suriname in 1986 to arrest 1980 coup leader and current president Desi Bouterse. In the first ever confirmation by a (former) Dutch official of what until Saturday had been but a rumour, Lubbers admitted that the United States had supported the plan. Former Dutch Defence Minister Wim van Eekelen supported Lubbers' confirmation saying: "I'm surprised at how long the existence of the invasion plan was kept secret." According to the story in De Volkskrant, the plan was to send 850 Dutch troops to Suriname with the support of the United States, which stood ready to provide naval and air support, including 16 helicopters. The newspaper said the invasion would have been carried out from the Antilles; the Dutch marines would have been flown to Curaao's Hato Airport under the guise of a military training. Among their objectives was to take control of Zanderij International Airport, which is about 45 kilometres south of the capital, Paramaribo. A special unit of marines also would have been dropped in Paramaribo with instructions to arrest Bouterse at one of his hiding places, located by American intelligence agencies. If the plans had succeeded, Dutch troops would have stayed in Suriname for at least a month, until they believed security had been guaranteed. De Volkskrant said the then-Lubbers government had drafted the plans after a messenger from Suriname had delivered a letter in October 1986 on behalf of three members of the Suriname government, including then-prime minister Pretap Radhakishun. The message appealed to Lubbers to intervene and arrest Bouterse. "The Suriname request was aimed to remove Bouterse," Dutch former foreign minister Hans van den Broek told the newspaper. "This does not mean that the possible Dutch military support had only this purpose. Our responsibility to the Dutch Surinamese also played a role." Though clearly planned in minute detail, the invasion eventually was called off because the Dutch Government considered the risks too many. A well-hidden secret in the troubled relationship between Suriname and its former coloniser Holland, the phantom plans for the invasion prompted questions in the Dutch Second Chamber up until 2007. Called to answer these questions in the Parliament, former Dutch Minister Maxime Verhagen had confirmed then that the Netherlands and the US had discussed an evacuation of Dutch citizens from Suriname, because the relationship between the Dutch and Suriname had deteriorated. However, former prime minister Lubbers' revelations in De Volkskrant confirmed the invasion plans in detail the first time. Bouterse led military rule between 1980 and 1988 after he and a group of army sergeants had overthrown the democratically-elected government. The years were marked by the "December murders," when 15 people who opposed the then military government were executed. Bouterse's May 2010 election as president seemed to came as a disappointment to the Netherlands, where he had been convicted in absentia for cocaine smuggling in 1999. The Netherlands subsequently said that Bouterse would only be welcome there to serve his 11-year prison sentence. The U.S. government has expressed respect for the elections. "The United States supports democratic elections and processes, and we respect the results of free and fair elections," said U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on July 19, soon after the election results were announced. "We look to maintain our good ties with Suriname and the people of Suriname, but we will be clear with the incoming Suriname government that, for good relations with the United States and the international community,

we expect this new government to stand firm against corruption and respect democratic principles, human rights, and the rule of law." Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975. While Suriname's Foreign Minister Lackin questioned the timing of Lubbers' revelation, he recognised the validation in Lubbers' story. He noted that President Bouterse, back in the '80s when he was the military ruler, had always said the Netherlands and the US were planning to invade Suriname. "But no one believed it. Holland categorically denied it. But now it turns out that Mr. Bouterse was telling the truth all the while," Lackin said. He insisted, though, that Suriname's Government would not be sidetracked.