A court in Suriname has convicted the country’s president in the 1982 killings of 15 political opponents.
The court in the tiny country on the northeastern coast of South America on Friday sentenced Desi Bouterse to 20 years in prison.
The verdict by a panel of three judges marked the end of a historic trial that began in November 2007, although it was not immediately clear what would happen next, The New York Times reported.
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Bouterse, the judges ruled played a “crucial” role in the killings, meticulously preparing the ground for executions he had the power to prevent, France24 reported.
Bouterse, 74, is on a state visit to China and will appeal the judgment when he returns next week, according to his lawyer Irvin Kanhai said.
In a statement shortly after the court issued its verdict, the government urged for calm among citizens.
“Democracy remains of paramount importance,” officials said in a statement.
Opposition parties have called for the resignation of Bouterse following the issuance of the verdict.
“It’s a shame for him to remain as president,” Hugo Essed, a lawyer for relatives of the victims
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 – and killed 15 of them at a colonial fortress in the capital, Paramaribo.
One trade union leader survived and later gave evidence against Bouterse.
Bouterse has persistently denied the charges and can appeal against the decision.
The court on Friday also convicted six other former military officers, including the country’s current consul to neighboring French Guiana, of murder for their part in the episode.