Suspect in Bouterse murder trial in Suriname allegedly commits suicide
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, CMC – Ruben Rozendaal, one of the co-defendants in the mass murder trial involving Suriname President Desi Bouterse, has died, after allegedly committing suicide by bleeding to death following a cut on his left arm.
A doctor who examined Rozendaal, whose body was found in his apartment in the capital late Friday night, said the death of the 61-year-old man was due to blood loss.
Rozendaal appeared in court on Thursday where the military prosecutor, Roy Elgin, had sought a 10 year-jail term for the former army officer.
According to the prosecutor, Rozendaal had participated in the planning and extra judicial killing of 15 political opponents of the then military government on December 8, 1982 that was headed by Bouterse.
Elgin argued that there was a script for the December murders and that the former army officer had played a specific role.
The prosecution argued that his role was to collect two men, one of whom, former sports minister André Kamperveen, was executed at the then military headquarters Fort Zeelandia.
Rozendaal was also the army officer who had blown up and set ablaze the head office of Suriname’s most powerful trade union at the time, De Moederbond. The prosecution said it was seeking the 10-year jail term because of his cooperation.
Following Thursday’s court hearing, Rozendaal, who said he had expected to be acquitted, became very emotional, insisting that as a soldier he was merely following orders.
“If I didn’t obey maybe I would have been the 16th person who would have been killed,” he told the military court, saying he had no idea that the men he had been sent to arrest would be killed.
He later told reporters: “I’m not going to be able to bear this, it hurts and maybe I have to sacrifice myself so that society will believe that Rozendaal didn’t participate in the planning and was not present during the killings.
“And no one should blame me, it will be my will,” he said, perhaps alluding to his planned suicide. On Friday his body was found with the left arm slit by a razor blade.
The prosecution is seeking a 20 year jail term for Bouterse and the five co-defendants. but has indicated that it would seek an acquittal of the 10 others.
The “December Murder Trial” with Bouterse as the main suspect began on November 30, 2017. A total of 25 former military officers and civilians were charged with the murder of the 15 men that included journalists, military officers, union leaders, lawyers, businessmen and university lecturers.
There is growing speculation here that the sentencing could be made in mid-2018.
Since Bouterse became the President of Suriname in elections held in 2010, he has tried several times to stop the trial.
Among the measures were the Amnesty Law in April 2012 and in June 2016 he invoked article 148 of the Constitution which give the government certain powers to instruct the prosecutor general to stop a criminal trial.
Both attempts failed since the High Court ordered that the “December Murder Trial,” as it is referred to here, should continue until there is a verdict.
Throughout the years Bouterse has maintained his innocence insisting that he never participated in the murders and that he was never present at Fort Zeelandia when the men were executed.
Rozendaal was the only co-defendant who said in court that Bouterse was present and that he shot and killed army officer Soerindre Rambocus and union leader Cyrill Daal.
“Desi Bouterse himself shot Cyrill Daal and Soerindre Rambocus. He (Bouterse) was my best friend and on numerous occasions we talked about the December murders. I was his confidant. Bouterse can be compared to the Godfather,” Rozendaal said in March 2012.
He also claimed that Bouterse was present when the 15 men were killed.
“I’ve seen corpses at half past six in the morning on December 8. He (Bouterse) lied to us that the men were planning a coup and that’s why they were arrested. I believed him then, but it turns out that this was not true. This was not a military operation. They were just brutal and cowardly murders. The people were seized from their homes and transferred to Fort Zeelandia. These persons were treated like beasts,” he added.
Rozendaal was one of the so-called ‘Group of 16’ young army officers who toppled the Henck Arron administration during a coup on February 25, 1980 after a dispute between the government and military personnel who were seeking to establish a trade union.
The ‘Group of 16’ led by Desi Bouterse remained in power behind the scenes until the general elections on November 25, 1987.
The December Murder Trial with Bouterse as the main suspect began on November 30, 2017. A total of 25 former military officers and civilians were charged with the murder of the 15 men that included journalists, military officers, union leaders, lawyers, businessmen and university lecturers.