Twist in Suriname war: ex-president joins rebels

The battle between guerrillas and Suriname's military regime has intensified and taken a new political twist. As the Army tries to break a rebel siege, an exiled political leader has returned to join the rebels. The Army took the offensive in the eastern region of the country and recaptured the vital bauxite-mining town of Moengo that had been cut off by guerrillas, according to the state-run Suriname News Agency. Authorities announced a state of emergency Tuesday in the border region around Moengo and in the southern district that holds Suriname's huge hydroelectric dam.

A government spokesman said that former President Henk Chin-A-Sen had arrived in neighboring French Guiana to join the rebels. Mr. Chin-A-Sen met a week ago with guerrilla leader Ronny Brunswijk inside Suriname, according to a Dutch press report from the Netherlands. Chin-A-Sen has since accused government troops of mass killings of civilians in the rebel-held area.

Mr. Brunswijk and some 300 guerrillas have been fighting to overthrow the regime of Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1980. Brunswijk says he wants to restore democracy.

Colonel Bouterse enjoyed widespread support immediately after his coup. His first president was Chin-A-Sen, a medical doctor whose participation lent legitimacy to Bouterse's government. Bouterse pledged elections in 1982, but under the influence of small leftist parties, he instead proclaimed socialism.

Chin-A-Sen fled to the Netherlands, where he founded a government-in-exile, the Liberation Council, now dominated by conservative Suriname 'emigr'es. He broke with the council because it wanted the violent overthrow of Bouterse, but his apparent involvement with Brunswijk indicates that he has realigned himself with Liberation Council leaders. The rebels, seen up to now as a commando force incapable of governing the country, have added a political dimension to their military threat.

Bouterse is now finding himself with few allies or resources. The Dutch cut off $100 million in annual aid to their former colony after Bouterse killed 15 opposition leaders in December 1982. The loss of Dutch aid and the decline of world bauxite prices threw the country into a foreign exchange crisis from which it has not recovered.

Following the US 1983 Grenada invasion, Bouterse severed his once-strong ties with Cuba in an effort to appease the Reagan administration. Bouterse's government has moved away from its Marxist rhetoric and declared its intention to return to civilian rule.

But Washington remains suspicious. The US Embassy in the capital city of Paramaribo fears Bouterse is playing a ``Libyan card'' in an effort to salvage his regime. US intelligence sources say that up to 200 Libyan military advisors are aiding Bouterse's Army of 2,000 soldiers.

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