Opening lines of communication with neighboring countries to successfully combat drug trafficking and other crimes has been one of the priorities of Colonel Werner Guiseppe Kioe A Sen, Commander of the Suriname Armed Forces (SAF). Colonel Kioe A Sen is determined to keep international criminal organizations out of Suriname.
Colonel Kioe A Sen met Dialogo to talk about national security challenges, as well as efforts to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and illegal gold mining activities, among other topics.
Dialog: What are your main security concerns?
Colonel Werner Guiseppe Kioe A Sen, Commander of the Armed Forces of Suriname: Suriname has many security issues, but the most difficult is our border control. Due to the vastness and uninhabited parts of our borders and the small scale of our security institutes, it is not easy to control such a large area. This translates, among other things, into illegal immigration and human trafficking staged by transnational criminal organizations and generally attracted by illegal gold mining. The influx of illegal immigrants is also a way for these transnational criminal organizations to smuggle illegal drugs, weapons and mercury into our country. In addition, the exodus of illegal immigrants is also of concern. Usually, large sums of foreign currency and gold leave our country without any tax or benefit to our society as a whole. Unfortunately, this also applies to our maritime area where IUU fishing takes place and where some Brazilian and Venezuelan schooners ship contraband. For us, SAF, as a security institution, everything is worrying; we see our precious resources extracted by illegals and most of the time with the help of nationals.
Dialog: You were the President of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Standing Committee of Military Commanders’ Crime and Security Implementation Agency (IMPACS). How important is your role for Suriname?
Col. Kioe A-Sen: Chairmanship of the IMPACS Standing Committee of Military Leaders between April 2021 and April 2022, first as the representative of the Commander of the SAF and then as the Acting Commander of our Armed Forces, was very important for Suriname . Even though we haven’t been able to do much due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been important for Suriname. It was not only the first time since the implementation of IMPACS for Suriname that we chaired this important security platform, but it was important because, based on Suriname’s foreign policy, we, as a state, are also demonstrating that we are a reliable partner in addressing security concerns for our region, our hemisphere and even from a global perspective. Suriname engages more than ever with our partners on such important security platforms, because security, social and economic development are all interconnected.
Dialog: What cooperation efforts are the SAF carrying out with neighboring countries to neutralize drug trafficking and curb organized and criminal activities?
Col. Kioe A-Sen: A holistic approach is needed to combat drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. At the national level, we frequently share intelligence with other local security institutions such as the National Security Directorate (part of the President’s Office), the Coast Guard and the Police Force. There is also good cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the Attorney General. Yet these lines of communication are not sufficient, which is why we recognize that regional security partnerships are complementary and invaluable. At the regional level, we have bilateral agreements with French Guiana and Brazil. With Guyana, we touched down in October 2021 and military cooperation still needs to be expanded.
On August 26, 2021, we signed the trilateral agreement with French Guiana and Guyana during the first Guiana Shield Strategic Dialogue. This year, Suriname will host this strategic dialogue. On this platform, we have all committed to strengthening and expanding security cooperation between the three Guyanas who share similar threats.
A recent example, during the first week of July 2022, our military intelligence played a crucial role in the neutralization of an armed gang made up of illegal Brazilians who were terrorizing many parts of our border with French Guiana. This armed gang has committed several murders on French soil. The process of extraditing a large part of this gang to our French neighbor has already begun.
Dialog: How does SAF contribute to national efforts to combat IUU fishing?
Col. Kioe A-Sen: There is a close relationship between the Department of Fisheries, the Suriname Coast Guard (SCG) and the Ministry of Defence. Law enforcement in our territorial waters (TW) and economic zone is the main task of the SCG and at the operational and tactical level, the Surinamese Navy supports the SCG with personnel and expertise; this manifests itself in regular maritime patrols and inter-agency training. There have been examples where our inter-agency operations have resulted in the identification and fight against IUU fishing. In addition, on the Corantijn River, our border with Guyana, the Surinamese Navy also supports the police with small means and personnel; in May, for example, this resulted in the confiscation of boats full of fish from illegal Guyanese fishermen fishing in our TW.
Dialog: How does SAF contribute to national efforts to combat illegal gold mining?
Col. Kioe A-Sen: For us, illegal gold mining is a thorny issue. There is still no solution or national consensus on how to deal with illegal gold mining. At the political level, there is an intention to regulate, but there are several levels of limitations that we must first address. One of these limits is the financial crisis that Suriname is going through. Financial constraints impact not only the effectiveness of security forces but also that of local governments.
The Sudanese Armed Forces have recently increased their presence in these less developed areas through regular small patrols and also through civil-military cooperation. The latter is done to improve socio-civil development. For example, we launched an operation called “Gran Mati” [Big Friend in Surinamese], which will be renewed each year. During this civil-military operation, we are reinforcing security in collaboration with the police; we renovate schools and provide health services.
We have the “Marbonsu” operation [Red Wasp]. During our first edition of the operation in December 2021, we neutralized three illegal gold panning pontoons after being requested by the Attorney General (AG). Even though the AG confiscated these pontoons, the intendants continued to extract gold in the Marowijne river. During this operation, we also set up checkpoints at Zorg en Hoop airport where all domestic flights arrive, mainly from areas with illegal gold mines, which resulted in the arrest of illegal immigrants and the confiscation of an illegal weapon.
Dialog: What types of exchanges do the SAF have with the South Dakota National Guard through the US National Guard’s State Partnership Program? What are the benefits of these commitments?
Col. Kioe A-Sen: This year the partnership with the South Dakota National Guard entered its 16th year and we will continue for many years to come. It has always been a mature relationship where we cooperate on many aspects. Exchanges of subject matter experts dominated this partnership and Suriname (SAF and National Disaster Relief Coordination Centre) was able to learn from their experiences in disaster management, force management, strategic communication, tactical, operational and strategic planning, etc. the many engineering and medical projects here in Suriname and South Dakota have not only resulted in technical and knowledge exchanges between the two defense organizations, but have also been instrumental in creating true friendships.
Dialog: What progress has SAF made in gender mainstreaming?
Col. Kioe A-Sen: We still have a long way to go. About 7% of the military are women. Within the officer corps, the female presence is nearly 22%. Regarding mainstreaming, there have recently been more initiatives to achieve gender mainstreaming. The facilities and attitude of men are more favorable to women. For example, an anti-molest policy has been put in place.
In May 2021, Lieutenant Coronel Lea Hynes-Parris, the first female Inspector General of the Armed Forces, was appointed. Women are well represented in the personnel of the Ministry of Defense and in several staff positions in the Sudanese Armed Forces. I believe that the female presence within the staff will increase because if we take into account our societal evolutions; we find that women form the majority of the student population within our national education system. Eventually, this will also be the subject of reflection within the SAFs, in particular within the SAFs management. So it’s only a matter of time!