Surinamese Interior War

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Surinamese Interior War
DateNovember 1986 – 1992
(6 years)
Result Jungle Commando surrenders after restoration of democracy.
Suriname National Army Jungle Commando
Commanders and leaders
Suriname Fred Ramdat Misier
Suriname Dési Bouterse
Ronnie Brunswijk
Casualties and losses
87 soldiers 60 jungle commandos
at least 300 civilians[1]

The Surinamese Interior War (Dutch: Binnenlandse Oorlog) was a civil war waged in the remote interior region of Suriname between 1986 and 1991. 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 people of ethnic Indian (South Asian), Javanese, Chinese, European, Amerindian, African (Creole and Maroon), and multiracial origin. The Maroons' ancestors were African slaves who escaped from coastal Suriname between the mid-seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries to form independent settlements in the interior. They settled in interior parts of Suriname, and gained independence by signing a peace treaty with the Dutch in the 1760s. The Dutch were unable to conquer them and agreed to allow them autonomy within their territory.[2]

In 1975 Suriname gained full independence from the Netherlands. Dési Bouterse participated in building a national army. Five years later, in 1980, he and fifteen other army sergeants led a bloody coup against the country's Government. Bouterse eventually consolidated all power. In 1987 he directed the National Assembly to adopt a new constitution that allowed him to continue as head of the army, as a civilian government was established under close watch.


Monument in Albina, Suriname to the Moiwana massacre victims of the civil war

The war began as a personal feud between Bouterse and Brunswijk, a Maroon who had served as Bouterse's former bodyguard. It later assumed political dimensions. Brunswijk demanded democratic reforms, civil rights and economic development for the country's Maroon minority.[1]

In November 1986, military forces attacked Moiwana, home village of Brunswijk. They massacred 39 people, mostly women and children. They destroyed most of the village, burning down Brunswijk's house and others. More than 100 survivors fled across the border to French Guiana.

On 1 June 1989 rebels captured Afobaka Dam, Suriname's main hydroelectric plant, and threatened to flood the capital 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. The government had proposed that the Jungle Commando troops were to be transformed into a security unit, to patrol the interior of the country.[1]

Cease-fire violations continued after the truce without escalating into a full-scale conflict.[3] But by September 1989, at least 300 people had been killed, numerous villages were destroyed, and bauxite and aluminum mining were being disrupted. An estimated 7000 maroons fled to refugee camps in French Guiana.[1]

On 19 March 1991, a meeting between representatives took place in the eastern mining town of Moengo. The government offered integration of Jungle Commando into the Suriname Army, and jobs for Maroons in gold prospecting and forestry 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 denounced the conditions and vowed to continue their armed struggle.[3]

War Crimes[edit]

On 7 and 8 December 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 (see the December murders). 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 29 November 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 on 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 31 December 1987, during a counter-insurgency 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 miles (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]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Susana Hayward (September 3, 1989). "Fragile Peace Plan in Suriname Tests Government's Control Over Army". LA Times. Associated Press. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  2. ^ Jacques Arends, Margot van den Berg. "The Saramaka Peace Treaty in Sranan: An edition of the 1762 text (including a copy of the original manuscript)". Retrieved July 19, 2015.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c "Suriname's Leader and Rebel Chief Vow to Negotiate Uprising's End". NY Times. Reuters. March 27, 1991. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Suriname: Justice Under Fire". Council on Hemispheric Affairs Report. June 14, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Claudia Martin and Françoise Roth. "Suriname Faces Past Human Rights Violations". Human Rights Brief. Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Washington College of Law, American University. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved July 19, 2015.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)


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

External links[edit]