Former rebel leader seeks Suriname presidency

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — An influential parliamentarian in Suriname who was a former rebel leader who led the "Jungle Commando" insurgency has announced he wants to run for president during the 2015 elections in the South American nation.

Ronnie Brunswijk is a member of Mega Combination coalition that put Desi Bouterse in power in 2010. At the time, Brunswijk's support of Bouterse was a surprise since they were once bitter enemies.

Brunswijk grabbed the microphone during a Saturday night concert by U.S. rapper Rick Ross and told the audience in Suriname's capital of Paramaribo that he wanted to be a candidate for president during the next general elections. The parliamentarian was a promoter for the show and threw money to the audience from the stage when announcing his candidacy.

Once one of Bouterse's bodyguards, Brunswijk led the rebels in the 1986-1992 Bush War against Bouterse's then-military dictatorship. He set up his Suriname Liberation Army, better known as the Jungle Commando, to win land and other rights for Maroons, descendants of escaped African slaves in the former Dutch colony. Brunswijk is a Maroon.

Under a 1992 peace agreement, the rebels turned over their weapons in exchange for jobs and more police powers in the country's interior.

After the accord, Brunswijk went into gold mining and logging and is now considered one of the wealthiest people in Suriname. In 1999, a Dutch court sentenced Bunswijk in absentia to eight years in prison for cocaine trafficking during the war years, but he insists he is innocent and has never been locked up for the conviction.

Bouterse was also convicted in absentia of drug trafficking by a court in the Netherlands. He also is accused of executing 15 political opponents in 1982.

Bouterse won a majority of the popular vote in 2010 elections due to widespread dissatisfaction with the economy, and he negotiated with Brunswijk's faction and other parties to secure the two-thirds support needed for the presidency.

Governing coalition spokesman Ricardo Panka said Monday that members were surprised by Brunswijk's announcement and noted that Bouterse intends to run for a second term.