Indonesian elite soldiers jailed over prison murders

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia - An Indonesian military tribunal Thursday jailed eight special forces soldiers for involvement in a plot to storm a prison and shoot dead four inmates in a revenge killing.

The group - three ringleaders and five men who played lesser roles - broke into Cebongan prison near Yogyakarta on the main island of Java in March.

One of the ringleaders was found guilty of firing the shots that killed the prisoners, who were in custody accused of murdering the soldiers' superior officer in a nightclub brawl.

The murders sparked a public outcry and evoked dark memories of the three-decade dictatorship of Suharto who stepped down in 1998, when the army often acted with impunity.

But the case also exposed deep divisions in the young democracy, with some supporting the soldiers for acting decisively against criminals, saying it was a stark contrast to the weak civilian courts and police.

As the members of the Kopassus unit, notorious during Suharto's rule for human rights abuses, waited to learn their fate, scores of supporters in paramilitary uniforms rallied outside the court in Yogyakarta.

A three-judge panel found the men guilty and handed down prison sentences on Thursday.

"The defendants' actions cost the life of four people, caused grief to the victims' families and traumatised many people, including the prisoners," chief judge Lieutenant Colonel Joko Sasmito told the court.

Second Sergeant Ucok Tigor Simbolon was found guilty of firing the shots that killed the prisoners, and received the heaviest sentence of 11 years. Prosecutors had recommended 12 years.

Second Sergeant Sugeng Sumaryanto was jailed for eight years, while First Corporal Kodik was given a six-year sentence. The two had stood next to Simbolon as he killed the prisoners.

The trio, who were the leaders of the plot, were also discharged from the army. Their lawyers immediately announced they would appeal the sentences.

The five others were found guilty of storming the prison complex with the trio and assisting the crime by such measures as destroying CCTV footage inside the jail.

The five, who were tried separately to the ringleaders, were each sentenced to one year and nine months in jail.

Another four men, accused of minor roles in the plot such as failing to report it to superiors, are due to be sentenced Friday.

The trial opened in June and has been controversial, with supporters regularly staging protests outside the court and witnesses claiming they were intimidated.