Opening lines of communication with neighboring countries to successfully fight against narcotrafficking and other crimes has been one of the focus of Colonel Werner Guiseppe Kioe A Sen, commander of the Suriname Armed Forces (SAF). Col. Kioe A Sen is set on keeping criminal international organizations away from Suriname.
Col. Kioe A Sen met with Diálogo to talk about national security challenges, as well as efforts to counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and illegal gold mining activities, among other topics.
Diálogo: What are your biggest security concerns?
Colonel Werner Guiseppe Kioe A Sen, commander of the Suriname Armed Forces: Suriname has many security concerns but the most challenging is our border control. Due to the vastness and the uninhabited parts of our borders and the small scale of our security institutes, it is not easy to control such a vast area. This result among others, in illegal immigration and human trafficking staged by transnational criminal organizations and usually attracted by illegal gold mining. The influx of illegal immigrants is also a vehicle for these transnational criminal organizations to smuggle illegal drugs, weapons, and mercury into our country. Furthermore, the outflow of illegal immigrants also is concerning. Usually, large sums of foreign currency and gold find their way out of our country without any taxation or any benefit for our society as a whole. Unfortunately, this also counts for our sea area where IUU fishing takes place and where some Brazilian and Venezuelan schooners are shipping contraband. For us, SAF, as a security institution all is worrying; we see our valuable resources being extracted by illegals and most of the time with the help of nationals.
Diálogo: You were the chairman of the Standing Committee of Military Chiefs of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS). How significant is your role for Suriname?
Col. Kioe A Sen: The chairmanship of the Standing Committee of the Military Chiefs of IMPACS between April 2021 and April 2022, first as the representative of the commander of the SAF, and later as the acting commander of our armed forces, was very important for Suriname. Even though we could not do much due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was significant for Suriname. It was not only our first time since the implementation of IMPACS for Suriname to chair this important security platform, but it was significant because, based on Suriname’s foreign policy, we as a state are also demonstrating that we are a reliable partner in the fight against security concerns for our region, hemisphere and even from the world perspective. Suriname engages more than ever with our partners on such important security platforms because security, social, and economic development are all interconnected.
Diálogo: What cooperation efforts do the SAF carry out with neighboring countries to neutralize narcotrafficking and curb organized and criminal activities?
Col. Kioe A Sen: A holistic approach is required to counter narcotrafficking and transnational organized crime. On the national level, we are sharing intelligence on a frequent basis with other local security institutions such as the National Security Directorate (part of the Cabinet of the President), the Coast Guard, and the Police Force. There also exists good cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the Attorney General. Yet, these lines of communication are not sufficient, that is why we recognize regional security partnerships as complementary and these are very valuable. On the regional level, we have bilateral agreements with French Guiana and Brazil. With Guyana, we touched base in October 2021 and the military cooperation is yet to be broadened.
On 26 August 2021, we signed the trilateral agreement with French Guiana and Guyana during the first Guyana Shield Strategic Dialogue. This year Suriname will be the host of this Strategic Dialogue. On this platform, we all pledged to strengthen and broaden the security cooperation between the three Guianas that share similar threats.
A recent example, in the first week of July 2022, our military intelligence played a crucial role in neutralizing an armed gang consisting of illegal Brazilians who have been terrorizing many parts of our border with French Guiana. This armed gang committed several murders on French soil. The process to extradite a large part of this gang to our French neighbor has already started.
Diálogo: How do the SAF contribute to national efforts to combat IUU fishing?
Col. Kioe A Sen: There is a strong relationship between the fisheries department, the Suriname Coast Guard (SCG), and the Ministry of Defense. Law enforcement in our territorial waters (TW) and Economic Zone is the primary task of the SCG and on the operational and tactical level the Surinamese navy supports SCG with personnel and expertise; this manifests in regular sea patrols and interagency training. There have been examples where our interagency operations have resulted in identifying and tackling IUU fishing. Furthermore, on the Corantijn River, our border with Guyana, the Surinamese navy also supports the Police Force with small assets and personnel; in May, for example, this resulted in the confiscation of boats full of fish of illegal Guyanese fishermen fishing in our TW.
Diálogo: How do the SAF help national efforts to combat illegal gold mining?
Col. Kioe A Sen: For us, illegal gold mining is a wicked problem. There is not yet a solution nor is there consensus nationally on how to deal with illegal gold mining. On the policy level there exists the intention to regulate, yet, there are multilayers of limitations that we need to address first. One of these limitations is the financial crisis Suriname is dealing with. Financial constraints have an impact on the effectiveness of not only security forces but on local governments as well.
The SAF recently increased its presence in these less developed areas through small and regular patrols and also through civil-military cooperation. The latter is done to improve civilian socio-development. For example, we started an operation called “Gran Mati” [Big Friend in Surinamese], which will be repeated yearly. During this civil-military operation, we increase security in collaboration with the police force; we renovate schools and offer health services.
We have operation “Marbonsu” [Red Wasp]. During our first edition of the operation in December 2021, we neutralized three illegal gold mining pontoons after having been requested support by the Attorney General (AG). Even though the AG confiscated these pontoons, the stewards continued to mine gold in the Marowijne River. During this operation, we also set up checkpoints at the Zorg en Hoop airport where all domestic flights come in, mostly from areas where illegal gold mines are located, which resulted in the arrest of illegal immigrants and the confiscation of an illegal weapon.
Diálogo: What kind of exchanges do the SAF carry out with the South Dakota National Guard as part of the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program? What are the benefits of these engagements?
Col. Kioe A Sen: This year the partnership with the South Dakota National Guard entered its 16th year and we will continue it for many years to come. It has always been a mature relationship where we are cooperating on many aspects. Subject Matter Expert Exchanges have dominated this partnership and Suriname (SAF and National Coordination Centre for Disaster Relief) has been able to learn from their experiences concerning disaster management, force management, strategic communication, tactical, operational, and strategic planning, etc. Yet, the many engineering and medical projects both here in Suriname and South Dakota have not only resulted in technical and knowledge exchanges between both defense organizations, but they have also been instrumental in the creation of true friendships.
Diálogo: What progress have the SAF made on gender integration?
Col. Kioe A Sen: We still have a long way to go. About 7 percent of the military is female. Within the officer corps, the female presence is almost 22 percent. Concerning integration, recently there have been more initiatives to achieve gender integration. Facilities and the attitude of males are more woman-friendly. For example, an anti-molest policy has been implemented.
In May 2021, Lieutenant Coronel Lea Hynes-Parris, the first female Inspector General of the Armed Forces was appointed. Females have a good representation within the staff of the Ministry of Defense and in several staff positions of the SAF. I believe that the female presence within the staff will increase because if we take our societal changes into account; we see that females form the majority of the student population within our national educational system. In time this will also be a reflection within the SAF, in particular within the leadership of the SAF. So, it is just a matter of time!