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Interior War of Suriname (1986-1992) Jungle Commando

The Surinamese Interior War (Dutch: Binnenlandse Oorlog) was a civil war waged in the remote interior region of Suriname between 1986 and 1992. Maroons are descendants of slaves that escaped harsh slave masters to Suriname's remote interior. 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 head of state Dési Bouterse. The war began as a personal feud between Bouterse and Brunswijk, a Maroon who had served as Bouterse's former bodyguard.

Suriname's interior war, 1986-1991, began when a Maroon insurgency, led by former soldier Ronnie Brunswijk, began attacking economic targets in the country's interior. In response, the army ravaged villages and killed suspected Brunswijk supporters.

The Jungle Command partly financed its struggle with gold and possibly invited the first Brazilian miners to Suriname. At the same time, more stringent restrictions on artisanal mining in Brazil drove thousands of garimpeiros to the Guianas. Brazilians mechanized and modernized Suriname’s artisanal mining sector. Soon thousands of young Maroon men with limited formal employment options joined them.

Soon the Maroon communities in southeastern Suriname became isolated from the more populated coastal zone. Without access to the urban economic infrastructure, gold became the only valid currency to buy food, supplies, and arms in French Guiana. The Maroons had long been involved in small-scale gold mining, but they usually worked manually in areas relatively near to their home villages along the Marowijne, Suriname, Tapanahoni and Lawa rivers. The war-related isolation and elimination of job opportunities forced Maroon men to increase their participation in artisanal and small-scale mining.

The period when Suriname was under military control was marked by gross human-rights violations, including violations of civil and political rights, most notably the “December Murders” in which 15 political opponents to the military government were executed. A cease-fire was signed in June 1989. Cease-fire violations continued after the truce without escalating into a full-scale conflict. 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.

It was not until May 1991 that a democratically elected government resumed power in Suriname, followed in August 1992 by a peace agreement that ended the Interior War between the government and the Jungle Commandos, the Maroon opposition group, that ended the Interior War.

Nearly two decades after the Republic of Suriname's Interior War, government and military leaders of this South American country are pressed to understand and treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 500 military members who were involved with the prior conflict are still active members and are now 40 years and older. Some have resorted to drugs and alcohol while trying to handle their stress and must receive help before they can be put back to work.

Members of the former "Jungle Commando" guerrilla group that fought against government forces during Suriname's Interior War (1986-1992) blocked the east-west (Paramaribo-Albina) road on Monday, 17 September 2007 to protest the Government of Suriname's (GOS) failure to implement the terms of the peace accord that ended the war. According to sources, between 25-40 unarmed protesters, led by commanders initially identified only by their "noms de guerre," "Oom Ieo," "Ajongpong," "Che," and "Paptoe," prevented vehicles (but not pedestrians) from passing through the roadblocks, which they set up at 3:00 a.m. between the Marowijne District capital of Moengo and the easternmost city in Suriname, Albina (exact location of roadblock: between Moengo and Ricanau Creek).

The historical complaint of the Maroon population in Marowijne is the failure of the GOS to support social and economic development, defend natural resources against exploitation by multinational companies, and assure the indigenous of land rights. The more specific demand in this case concerned the failure to give former combatants government jobs, or a stipend which would allow them to seek jobs independently. The "Jungle Commando" members were reportedly drinking hard liquor and allowing some vehicles to pass upon paying a bribe, leading Post to conclude that the blockade was less a political cause and more a matter of convenience used to help attain narrowly self-focused demands.

Ronnie Brunswijk, former leader of the Jungle Commando (and currently a member of parliament within the governing coalition), had a telephone conversation with President Venetiaan, who gave him firm assurances that the peace agreement, as-signed, would be executed. The delay in implementation was attributed to bureaucratic procedures within the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Bitter complaints and threats of civil unrest by the former "Jungle Commandos" over the failure of the GOS to implement the 1992 peace accords are not new; they threatened to blow up a large dam in 2006. However, this time their roadblock appeared to rapidly achieve its objective. Oft-sensationalist newspaper "Times of Suriname" (average circulation 18,000) editorialized that it was a "terrorist" action, but also said they were impressed with how effective the action was, perhaps setting a dangerous precedent for how to get things done in Suriname.

While there is no evidence that Marowijne parliamentarian Ronnie Brunswijk organized or authorized the roadblock, his apparent intervention to negotiate its end through his telephone conversation with the President attested to his role as a key player in the banditry-plagued East, where he often seemed to have more sway than the central government. President Venetiaan's reportedly rapid capitulation spoke not only to Brunswijk's apparent power but also, unfortunately, to Venetiaan's lackluster leadership style.



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