GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Suriname's president defended a new amnesty law that will end his murder trial, saying Thursday it will let his South American country resolve lingering bitterness over its military dictatorship and civil war.
"This is a new beginning," President Desi Bouterse said during a visit to neighboring Guyana. "This amnesty is intended to heal the whole nation, not just one part of it."
The amnesty will end the trial of Bouterse and 24 associates, who were charged with abducting and killing 15 prominent political opponents to his dictatorship in December 1982.
Bouterse pointed out that the legislation that passed Wednesday night also covers the killing of 19 soldiers by rebels in the southeastern region near the border with French Guiana during the 1986-92 civil war. Critics of the law have "conveniently forgotten" that aspect, the former military strongman said.
Bouterse spent two days in Guyana, arriving on a flight that marked the restoration of direct air service from Paramaribo to Georgetown on the country's state-owned airlines.
The prime minister of the Netherlands, Suriname's former colonial ruler, denounced the decision to grant amnesty to Bouterse and recalled the country's ambassador in protest. The Netherlands also is barring all suspects in the killings from entering the country and vowed to take more action.
"We consider it totally unacceptable," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in The Hague. "The law must be allowed to run its course."
Bouterse seized power in a 1980 coup. He allowed the return of civilian rule in 1987 but staged a second coup in 1990. He stepped down as military chief in 1992, but has remained a powerful force in Suriname. Lawmakers elected him president in 2010.