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7 Sentenced in Indonesia in 2001 Murder of Papuan Independence Leader - 2003-04-21

An Indonesian military court has sentenced seven members of the Indonesian military to prison for the murder of a Papuan independence leader. But the short sentences are likely to anger Papuan leaders.

An Indonesian military court sentenced four Indonesian officers and three soldiers to prison for terms ranging from two years to three and a-half years. The presiding officer said the court was convinced that the defendants had tortured independence leader Theys Eluay to death in November 2001. All seven defendants are from Indonesia's elite special forces unit, called Kopassus. The flamboyant Mr. Eluay was the leader of the Papua Presidium Council, a group set up to campaign for Papua's independence from Indonesia. Mr. Eluay and his driver were on their way home from dinner with military officers at a base in Papua province, when their car was ambushed. Officials say Mr. Eluay was strangled to death. His driver has not been seen since. Senior military officials say that the suspects were not ordered to kill Mr. Eluay. But some of Mr. Eluay's fellow independence supporters reject that claim. Willy Mandowen is with the Papua Presidium Council. He has said in the past that Mr. Eluay was assassinated by Indonesian authorities. "Theys Eluay has openly rejected the idea of integration with Indonesia through a peaceful and democratic way, and there is no way to attract him to agree with Indonesian policy. Therefore, the only way to bring down the pro-independence peaceful movement in Papua is to kill the leader," he said.

While the verdicts were a rare occasion in which members of Indonesia's powerful military have been held accountable for crimes, some rights activists are saying the sentences were too lenient.

Located more than 2,000 kilometers east of the Indonesian capital, Papua Province has been the home of a simmering independence movement for more than three decades.

At the heart of the fight is control over the province's abundant natural resources, including copper, gold and forestry.