Sarkozy congratulates Suriname's controversial president
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has congratulated Desi Bouterse on his election as president of Suriname. Mr Bouterse, a former army commander, stands accused of the murder of political opponents. He has also been convicted in the Netherlands, in absentia, of drug trafficking.
France is the first European country to congratulate Mr Bouterse. In a letter, Mr Sarkozy wrote that his country is open to intensive cooperation with Suriname. Mr Sarkozy is head of state of French Guiana, which is a French overseas department and shares a border with Suriname.
A Dutch Member of the European Parliament Hans van Baalen has voiced criticism at French President Nicolas Sarkozy for congratulating Mr Bouterse, and says the incoming president of Suriname should be refused entry to the European Union.
The Dutch MEP told Radio Netherlands Worldwide: "It seems reasonable to me that such a person should not be allowed to travel to the EU".
Elected Mr Bouterse won the presidential election in Suriname, a former Dutch colony, just over a week ago. The former leader of the country's military regime in the 1980s was sentenced in absentia to an 11-year prison term for drugs trafficking by a Dutch court in 1999. Outgoing Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has said that Suriname's new leader is only welcome in the Netherlands to serve his jail term.
However, MEP Hans van Baalen adds that the next Dutch coalition government has to be careful how it deals with the new Surinamese government. He believes the people of Suriname should not be allowed to suffer under possible sanctions.
The Dutch government's position with regard to Suriname will play an important role in deciding the stance taken by the European parliament, according to Mr Van Baalen. He thinks the Netherlands will be listened to in Brussels.
Independence Until its independence in 1975, Suriname was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Five years later, in 1980, Mr Bouterse seized power and held it until 1989.
Later, Suriname became a democracy and Mr Bouterse entered politics. On 19 July 2010 he was elected, with the support of the parliamentary majority, as the country's ninth president. Mr Sarkozy will not attend the inauguration. A spokesman for Mr Bouterse has said the President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela will be present at the ceremony.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide