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Indonesian sentenced in killings of 2 Americans

A separatist rebel who killed two American teachers at a U.S.-owned gold mine in Indonesia was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.  His accomplices up to seven years, a judge said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A separatist rebel who killed two American teachers at a U.S.-owned gold mine was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday and his accomplices up to seven years, a judge said.

The defendants — all indigenous Papuans — have repeatedly called their trial a sham and walked out in protest hours before the verdicts were read.

Prosecutors claimed the men were all members of a small rebel army fighting for a separate state in the resource-rich province of Papua, in eastern Indonesia.

They were accused of attacking a convoy heading toward a mine owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Mine Inc. Killed in the 30-minute assault were Rick Spier, 44, of Littleton, Colo., Ted Burgon, 71, of Sun River, Ore., and an Indonesian teacher.

Eight other Americans, including a 6-year-old girl, were seriously wounded in the Aug. 31, 2002 attack.

Antonius Wamang, 31, was sentenced to life in prison, though prosecutors demanded only 20 years.

‘A gross violation of human rights’
“This was premeditated murder. It was a gross violation of human rights,” said Judge Andriani Nurdin. The judge later sentenced two other men to seven years for taking part in the ambush, and four to 18 months for providing logistical support.

The defendants have remained silent throughout their five-month trial, refusing to make a defense plea and regularly walking out of the courtroom, saying the judges were biased against them.

Their lawyer, Johnson Panjaitan, claimed Tuesday that he had not been allowed to meet with his clients for more than a month, but court officials could not immediately confirm that.

“Can you imagine that a client cannot communicate with his lawyer?” he asked.

Spier’s widow, Patsy, who suffered two gunshot wounds in the attack, praised the ruling, saying in an e-mail to reporters that she was “firmly convinced Wamang and the other defendants are guilty of this horrific and cowardly act of terrorism.”

Wamang — indicted by a U.S. 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.

The other men maintain they were innocent civilians.

‘Release them! Release them!’
Dozens of Papuan student protesters gathered outside the courthouse, chanting “Release them! Release them!”

Indonesian security forces guarding the mine were initially suspected of taking part in the killings to extort higher protection payments from the New Orleans-based company. Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian journalist who investigated the attack, said the military’s role still could not be discounted.

Washington made Indonesian cooperation with the FBI probe into the killings a condition of restoring military ties with Jakarta last year that had been frozen since 1999 due to human rights concerns.