Researchers in Surinam Return Home After Being Trapped for Three Days

News Feature

A Harvard professor and admissions officer ran into a slight problem when they were in Surinam last week, continuing their eight-year study of the bush people of that country. Nothing major--the government was just overthrown.

Depending only on rumor for news from the outside and unable to contact anyone, David L. Evans, senior admissions officer for Harvard and Radcliffe, felt "very tense," he said yesterday. "I feared we might be accidently harmed," he added.

"I was shocked when I heard the news," S. Allen Counter, associate professor of Biology, added yesterday.

The coup began Sunday, when sergeants in Surinam's army, striking for a pay raise, suddenly became violent. Other protesters forced the police to surrender by firing from an army gun boat and burning police headquarters.

Caught in a hotel four blocks from the police headquarters in Paramaribo, Surninam, were the two researchers, who have worked in the former Dutch colony for eight years tracing an African descended tribe back to Ghana. They were in Surninam preparing further research.

The two watched the confrontation when "they bombed [the headquarters] with rockets and blew it up," Evans said.

With all modes of escape closed, the researchers considered hiding in the jungle if necessary.

"We were willing to take a chance," Counter said. "We know the jungle better than the soldiers," he added.

Evans said they had planned to go to the tribe they were studying because its people could easily get them to French Guyana. "These are very, very shrewd people" who would have no trouble evading the soldiers, Evans said.

That situation did not arise. The new government of Surinam, eager to dispel any notions that the coup might be another situation like Iran's, in which foreigners were held hostage, arranged for the departure of the researchers, who returned Wednesday night.

Military guards stopped them four times as they traveled, and Evans feared the soldiers would accidently harm them. "They might have panicked," he said.

Counter said, however, he does not expect any problems in continuing his research. "We never get involved in politics," Counter added, saying he has worked with the civilian head of government.

"We were very fortunate," Counter said