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Lawyers call Eluay's suspected killers 'heroes'

Associated Press - March 18, 2003

Jakarta – Describing their clients as national heroes, attorneys for seven Indonesian soldiers on trial for the killing of a leading politician in independence- minded Papua province, said their clients were innocent and charges against them should be dropped.

Military prosecutors have demanded prison terms ranging from two to three years for the assassins of Theys Eluay, a leading politician in the Indonesian province of Papua on the western half of New Guinea island. Eluay was found dead on November 10, 2001, on the outskirts of the provincial capital Jayapura, just after attending a dinner hosted by the local special forces unit.

In their plea before a military tribunal in the port city of Surabaya, the attorneys said a guilty verdict would hurt the morale of the country's military. "They are heroes who have defended the state of Indonesia," said Hotma Sitompul, the defendant's attorney. "For the sake of the law, we ask the tribunal to drop all the charges."

Sitompul said prosecutors haven't proven their clients were responsible for Eluay's death. "The autopsy was performed without the presence of forensic experts," he said. "Legally, its findings cannot be used in court."

The soldiers, including unit commander Lt. Col. Hartomo, are being tried in two separate trials. Like many Indonesians, Hartomo uses a single name.

Indonesia occupied the former Dutch colony in 1963, and its sovereignty was formalized in 1969 through a UN-sponsored referendum. Rights groups claimed the ballot was a sham, and a loosely organized guerrilla band has been fighting for independence since then.