Wed, 19 Mar 2003

Kopassus lawyer calls Theys' murder suspects `heroes'

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A lawyer representing seven military officers in their trial for the murder of Papuan separatist leader Theys Hiyo Eluay, called them "heroes" and warned that punishing them would set a bad example for other soldiers in conflict zones.

Lawyer Hotma Sitompul was representing seven mid- to high- ranking officers of the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) in the court martial on Tuesday, charged with killing Theys on his way home in Papua on Nov. 10, 2001.

"They (the defendants) have fought with all they have, their minds, careers and their lives, to defend the unitary state of Indonesia. So this defense statement can be titled no other than 'Heroes on Trial'," said Hotma as he read out the defense's opening statement, Antara reported.

Theys was murdered on National Heroes' Day in 2001, and was last seen during its commemoration dinner at Kopassus headquarters in the Papuan capital of Jayapura, which he had attended at the invitation of Papua Kopassus Commander Lt. Col. Hartomo.

During the dinner, Hartomo heard of Theys' plan to reaffirm Papua's independence and ordered his men to anticipate the plan.

A team of six Kopassus officers then followed Theys, including two officers who accompanied Theys in his own car.

Apparently, the two intended to extract information from Theys, but instead got into an argument. The Papuan leader died of suffocation, after one of the soldiers -- as he claimed -- clamped his hand over Theys' mouth to avoid him from screaming out during the quarrel.

Ariestoteles, Theys' driver, fled the scene and remains missing. Over a year later, he is now presumed dead.

Hotma, however, said the soldiers were doing only their job.

"So let us think about the impact the judges' verdict will have on soldiers all over Indonesia... Don't let the verdict weaken the soldiers' spirit in defending the unitary state of Indonesia," he argued.

During the court hearing on March 5, prosecutors demanded sentences of between two to seven years in prison for the three defendants, two-and-a-half years for Kopassus Commander Hartomo, and three years for Chief Pvt. Achmad Zulfahmi, who was directly responsible for Theys' death. Achmad has already been discharged from service.

Appearing at the court martial on Tuesday were Papua Kopassus Commander Hartomo, Capt. Rionardo, Chief Sgt. Asrial and Achmad Zulfahmi.

The other defendants, Maj. Donny Hutabarat, First Lt. Agus Suprianto and First Sgt. Lorensius are to be tried at a separate hearing.