Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Lawyers demand release of Army clients in arms theft trial

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

Lawyers for seven soldiers, charged in connection with a burglary in April of munitions in Wamena regency, Papua province, demanded on Friday their clients be released or given a lesser jail term.

One day earlier, military prosecutors had sought only seven months imprisonment for the defendants, even though they acknowledged the soldiers could face two to four years imprisonment.

Maj. Dwi Joko, who chairs the lawyers' team, argued that the charges laid against his clients did not refer to "intentional acts" but rather, "negligence and coercion".

Furthermore, the defendants had also offered a genuine apology and regrets, and promised not to repeat what they had done, he told the Jayapura military court in the troubled province, while reading out the lawyers' defense plea.

The seven soldiers -- First Sgt. Itom Kogoya, First Sgt. Yuarima Mabel, Second Corp. Irfan Djuhari, Sgt. Maj. Karel Itlay, Chief Corp. Paus Kogoya, First Sgt. Philemon Pameka and First Pvt. Eduardus Kiwirok -- attended the trial.

Three people, including two troops, were killed on April 4, 2003, when at least 13 M-16 rifles, 13 SP-1 rifles and three PM rifles, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition, were stolen from the Wamena Army arsenal.

The theft was initially blamed on Papuan rebels who allegedly broke into the arsenal at 2 a.m.

Most of the stolen arms were recovered several days after the incident.

Six of the defendants were charged with violating Article 118 of the Criminal Code for neglect of their duties, while Itom was accused of breaching Article 1 of Law No. 12/1951 for giving ammunitions or war equipment to a separatist group.

Dwi said the negligence was not an intentional act to help the burglars break into the arsenal, but due to a disciplinary offense on the part of the defendants.

Likewise, he added, Itom gave five bullets and a pair of military uniforms to Silas Kogoya, a suspected member of the rebel Free Papua Organization (OPM), at a church in Tiom village, Jayawijaya regency, because he and his children were the subject of death threats.

This happened hours before the theft, Dwi said.

"For those reasons, we ask the panel of judges to release the seven or give them lesser sentences," Dwi said.

Lt. Col. A.R. Tampubolon, who presided over the martial court and were flanked by Maj. Sutrisno Setio Utomo and Maj. Tatang Masifit, told the hearing they would consider the lawyers' appeal before issuing a verdict.

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 30 to hear a verdict for Karel Itlay, Philemon Pameka, Paus Kogoya and Eduardus Kimirop.

The judges said that they would deliver a verdict on Itom Kogoya on Oct. 1, and on Irfan Djuhari a day later.

On Monday, the same court is scheduled to hear sentencing demands for two other defendants -- First Lt. Pilius Wenda and First. Sgt. Serianus Jikwa.

Prosecutor Lt. Col. M. Sucahyo told the opening of the trial of the defendants on Sept. 15 that Pilius, 38, was charged with aiding and abetting in the theft by providing arms or weapons to the armed separatist group.

Pilius, who served as the Kurima subdistrict military chief, had violated Law No. 12/1951, Article 148 of the Criminal Code, which carries as maximum punishment the death penalty, he said.

Eight civilians have also been charged at Wamena District Court for their alleged role in the theft.

Two Army soldiers, First Lt. A. Napitupulu and First Sgt. Ruben Lena, and one civilian, Islae Murib, suspected of being a rebel -- were killed in the ensuing shootout.

The theft prompted an alleged human rights violation as Military officers hunted down civilians in Kuyawage village, Jayawijaya, accused of involvement in the incident.

A team from the National Commission on Human Rights has visited the village to investigate the allegations.