Suriname Guerrilla War

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Suriname Guerilla War
Date 1986 – 1992
Location East-Suriname
Result Jungle Commando surrenders after restoration of democracy
Suriname National Army Jungle Commando
Commanders and leaders
Suriname Desi Bouterse Ronnie Brunswijk
Casualties and losses
87 soldiers 60 jungle commandos
at least 300 civilians[1]

The Suriname Guerrilla War (Dutch: Binnenlandse Oorlog, 'Internal War') was an internal conflict in Suriname between 1986 and 1992. The war was fought between the Jungle Commando led by Ronnie Brunswijk, whose members originated from the Maroon ethnic group, and the national army led by then-army chief and de facto head of state Dési Bouterse.


Suriname has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in South America, with groups of East Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, European, Amerindian and black (Creole and Maroon) origin. The Maroons' ancestors were African slaves who escaped from coastal Suriname between the mid-seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries to form independent settlements. They settled in interior parts of Suriname, and gained independence by signing a peace treaty with the Dutch in the 1760s.[2]

In 1975 Suriname gained full independence. Five years later, in 1980, army sergeant Desi Bouterse led a bloodless coup against the country's government. Bouterse eventually consolidated all power.


Moiwana monument to the victims of the war in Albina, Suriname

The war began as a personal feud between Bouterse and Brunswijk, Bouterse's former bodyguard, and later assumed political dimensions. Brunswijk demanded democratic reforms, civil rights and economic development for the country's maroon minority, to which he belonged.[1]

On 1 June 1989 rebels captured Afobaka Dam, Suriname's main hydroelectric plant and threatened to flood Paramaribo unless the government agreed to negotiations. Despite the threats the rebels withdrew 36 hours later on Brunswijk's orders.[1]

On 7 June 1989 talks were held on the island of Portal. The delegations reached an agreement on a tentative peace proposal. The government signed the pact on 21 July 1989, which was approved by parliament on 7 August 1989. The accord declared the intention of both sides to end hostilities.[1]

A cease-fire was signed in June 1989. An emergency aid program to rebuild maroon villages, an end to a state of emergency in the eastern part of the country and the return of refugees to Suriname were among the actions launched by the peace agreement. Moreover, Jungle Commando troops were transformed into a security unit with the aim of patrolling the interior of the country.[1] Cease-fire violations continued after the truce without escalating into a full-scale conflict.[3]

By September 1989, at least 300 people have been killed, numerous villages were destroyed, with bauxite and aluminum mining being disrupted. An estimated 7000 maroons fled to refugee camps in French Guiana.[1]

On 19 March 1991, a meeting took place in the eastern mining town of Moengo. The integration of Jungle Commando into the Surinam Army, as well as gold prospecting and forestry jobs were offered by the government in return for complete disarmament.[3]

On 27 March 1991, final talks were held in the town of Drietabbetje, effectively putting an end to the conflict. Despite the agreement a number of Jungle Commando officials residing in the Netherlands have denounced the agreement and vowed to continue their armed struggle.[3]

War Crimes[edit]

On December 8, 1982, military policemen kidnapped 15 men from their beds, most of them civilians, placed them on a bus and then murdered them after conspiracy charges were lodged against them. The victims were all members of the Suriname Association for Democracy, a group critical of the Surinamese military government. The group, according to government officials, was part of a conspiracy that was planning a coup d'état on Christmas Day. The state later admitted of conducting inadequate investigations into the case. An investigation began in 2008. Despite accepting political responsibility, Bouterse denied direct involvement.[4]

On November 29, 1986 the military government executed more than 40 people, including women and children, and burned the village of Moiwana. Three years after the attack, a statement was issued, in which Bouterse assumed direct responsibility for the murders. As a result of an Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) investigation, the Surinamese government made a public apology to the victims’ families in 2006, additionally paying compensation to the survivors. The perpetrators of the crime remained unpunished.[4]

On December 31, 1987, during a counterinsurgency operation in the Atjoni region seven maroon civilians were driven off in a military vehicle on suspicion of belonging to the Jungle Commando. A few kilometers further, they were ordered to dig their own graves. Six of the maroons were summarily executed while the seventh died from sustained injuries while trying to escape.[5] An IACHR investigation into the case was launched in January 1988.[5] On 10 September 1993 the court awarded the victims' families U.S.$450,000 in damages and required Suriname to compensate the families for the expenses incurred in locating the victims' bodies. A second decision further determined the financial reparations insufficient, ordering the state to re-open the Saramaca medical dispensary and the school in the victims' village.[5]



  • Vries, E. de, (2005) Suriname na de binnenlandse oorlog, Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, ISBN 90-6832-499-3
  • Hoogbergen, W. & D. Kruijt, (2005) De oorlog van de sergeanten: Surinaamse militairen in de politiek, Amsterdam: Bakker, ISBN 90-351-2998-9

External links[edit]