Last week, lawmakers in Suriname approved a controversial amnesty bill that saved incumbent President Desi Bouterse from potentially being the first sitting head of government of a Caribbean trade bloc nation to be convicted of mass murder.

The amnesty relates to a series of political missteps by soldiers who deposed the country’s elected government in a February 1980 coup and were then involved in the execution of 15 government opponents at an old Dutch fort in December 1982. They were also active participants in the mowing down of several members of a Maroon village near French Guiana, among other atrocities.

The country’s 51-seat Parliament debated the bill for 12 hours before voting 28 to 12 for the amnesty that will save Bouterse and more than 20 other former military officials and senior public servants from being convicted by a court that was nearing a verdict in the 1982 mass murder trial when Parliament intervened.

The amnesty, which has angered the United States and other Western nations, including former colonizer the Netherlands, will cover everything from the 1980 coup to the 15 executions, the nearly 500 people who died in a civil war between the military and rebels backed by Western nations and the slaughter of elderly men, women and children in Moiwana Village for refusing to cooperate with soldiers and other problems, up to 1992.

Once the vote went through, Bouterse, who was in neighboring Guyana as his fellow legislators debated the motion, urged his countrymen to regard the amnesty as “a new start” for the Dutch-speaking republic, suggesting that citizens should grab it with both hands.

“This is a new beginning. This amnesty is intended to heal the whole nation, not just one part of it,” the head of state said, speaking through an interpreter as he prepared to leave Guyana.

He denied that his government had had any direct involvement in prodding a small group of pro-administration legislators to bring the issue to the floor of the assembly, saying it nevertheless represented a chance to revise a 1989 amnesty to make it more comprehensive and cover all of the atrocities and wrongdoing from the period of military rule.

He said the amnesty will also cover the murders of 19 soldiers by anti-government, anti-military rebels in the southeastern regions near French Guiana in the 1980s, saying his critics have “conveniently forgotten to include that fact” in all the years they have fought to charge him and his former civilian and military colleagues for the December 1982 murders.

The pardon will not affect the outcome of an ongoing trial in which he and more than 20 others are charged with executing 15 civilians at a colonial-era fort just next to his downtown office.

Blaming the opposition New Front “and other interest groups” for not doing enough to bring an end to the situation after 30 years, he said they had allowed the unfortunate circumstances from the period to fester without solution.

Western nations, including the United States, condemned the amnesty, while the country’s former colonizor, the Netherlands, has recalled its ambassador.

Bouterse openly accused authorities of “paying a bribe to a witness who is also a suspect in the murders” to place him at the scene of the murders. “Why now, after 30 years–why now, after the trial has basically been going on for 10 years? In other jurisdictions, he would have been charged for perjury and other offenses,” he said.

He admitted that the murders had “left an open wound on Surinamese society” but argued that the time has come to put an end to it all and “offer a chance for the nation to heal, for everybody to heal.”