THE HAGUE, DEC. 24 -- Suriname's military broadcast an announcement today that it had seized power, hours after the army occupied the nation's television station, the Dutch ANP news agency reported.
The announcement was made by acting armed forces commander Ivan Graanoogst, according to ANP, which monitored the broadcast from Paramaribo. "In consideration of the current situation in the country, the leadership of the army has taken over political power," he said.
Graanoogst said the military would call "general, secret and free elections" within 100 days and he urged the public to remain calm.
The coup came hours after Col. Desi Bouterse, who led a military regime in Suriname between 1980 and 1987, handed in a letter of resignation as head of the armed forces. The colonel said he was quitting because President Rameswar Shankar had failed to protest when Bouterse was taken into police custody, ostensibly for security reasons, in Amsterdam earlier this month.
Shankar, who was aboard the same plane to the Netherlands to undergo medical treatment, did not provide assistance to Bouterse when he was held incommunicado by Dutch police.
Graanoogst said the military decided to seize power after the cabinet, president and vice president refused to resign and call free elections within 100 days.
The chairman of the National Assembly, Jaggernath Lachmon, had told Bouterse that the resignations would be tendered, Graanoogst said, and the agreement was not kept.
Earlier today, 14 officers accused the government of showing hostility toward the armed forces. They said in a letter to the assembly that they had agreed to "terminate their confidence in the government."
Bouterse, who seized power in a 1980 military coup, handed over the government to civilians after elections in 1987. He continued to hold the position of military chief of staff. He has long held grievances against Shankar for concluding a 1989 peace accord to end a three-year rebellion by ethnic Maroons -- descendants of escaped slaves -- that cost 500 lives.
The military opposed the treaty because it granted police powers, including the right to bear arms, to the rebel Jungle Commando group in rural areas and increased the power of Maroons. Bouterse has pressed to have parts of the treaty amended.
Some experts on Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the northeast tip of South America, said Bouterse may have tried to sabotage peace efforts and stir up ethnic conflict to pave the way for his return.
The Netherlands, which granted Suriname independence in 1975, cut off its $100 million a year aid package to the nation of 400,000 after 15 opposition leaders were killed in 1982 while in army custody. The Hague restored aid when a civilian government took power in 1988. It warned after Bouterse announced his resignation that the funds could again be jeopardized.