Wed, Nov 08, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Life in jail for Papuan separatist

DOUBTS REMAIN The case of a man found guilty of murdering two US citizens in Indonesia was monitored by the US

AP , JAKARTA

A man who orchestrated the killings of two US teachers at a US-owned gold mine in Papua Province was sentenced to life in prison yesterday, moments after he and the other defendants walked out of the courtroom alleging their trial was a sham.

Prosecutors claim the seven men -- all indigenous Papuans -- were members of a small rebel army fighting for a separate state in the resource-rich province.

They are accused of shooting Rickey Lynn Spier, 44, of Littleton, Colorado, and Leon Edwin Burgon, 71, of Sun River, Oregon, in 2002 as their car headed down a road toward the mine, owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Mine Inc.

Judge Andriani Nurdin said the ringleader, Antonius Wamang, deserved life behind bars instead of the 20 years demanded by prosecutors because he planned the ambush.

"This was premeditated murder," she said.

Verdicts for the other six men were expected later in the day.

The defendants have remained silent throughout the course of their five-month trial and regularly walked out in protest. They did so again yesterday, escorted in handcuffs to the Central Jakarta District Court's detainment room ahead of the ruling.

"We haven't been able to meet with our clients in jail for the last month," said Johnson Panjaitan, one of their lawyers. "Can you imagine that a client cannot communicate with his lawyer?"

The attack originally complicated ties between Washington and Jakarta amid suspicions that Indonesian security forces guarding the mine were involved. But an FBI investigation found no evidence linking soldiers or police to the killings.

Wamang -- indicted by a US grand jury in 2004 for the murders -- has acknowledged being a Papuan separatist and said he shot at the convoy because he thought it was carrying soldiers.

But the other men, accused of providing logistics for the attack, maintain they were innocent civilians.

"We had nothing to do with these shootings," said Ishak Onawame, 54, before the verdicts were read out. "Our trial has been manipulated for the interests of two countries, Indonesia and the United States."

Dozens of Papuan student protesters gathered outside, chanting: "Release them! Release them!"

Washington said earlier that Indonesian cooperation with the FBI probe into the killings was a condition for restoring military contacts with Jakarta.

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