Indonesia's special forces soldiers convicted

(From right) Ucok Tigor Simbolon, Sugeng Sumaryanto and Kodik were part of a team that stormed a prison in March to avenge the killing of a colleague.

INDONESIA - A member of Indonesia's elite commando unit who led the brazen storming of a prison and shot four inmates to death in an act of revenge was sentenced on Thursday to 11 years in jail and expelled from service by a military court in Yogyakarta.

Prosecutors had sought a 12-year sentence for Second Sergeant Ucok Tigor Simbolon, a member of the Army Special Forces Command (Kopassus), for premeditated murder and insubordination.

Two other Kopassus members were sacked and given jail terms: 2nd Sgt Sugeng Sumaryanto got eight years and First Corporal Kodik six years - two years short of prosecutors' demands.

All three men are appealing.

"They were honourable in owning up to their crimes," said the presiding judge, Lieutenant-Colonel Joko Sasmito, who read from a 449-page verdict. "But their actions took four lives and caused severe grief to victims' families, as well as trauma to the warden and other inmates. They have tarnished the military's good name," he added.

The soldiers' admission of guilt and the ensuing trial, which was open to the public, were seen as indications of the military's commitment to dealing with offences within its ranks.

On March 22, the soldiers drove two hours from a Kopassus forward base to Cebongan prison to avenge the killing of a colleague, Sergeant Heru Santoso, who was stabbed to death by four gangsters while on duty at a nightspot in Yogyakarta.

At Cebongan, one soldier brandished a grenade at a guard as others forced their way in. Ucok shot their targets while others destroyed closed-circuit TV cameras before fleeing.

Outside the courtroom on Thursday, scores of Kopassus supporters hailed the soldiers as heroes who dared to act against thugs at a time when lawlessness seemed to be on the rise.

Still, military observer Benny Butarbutar said the outcome was "a good reminder to soldiers that they are bound by the law".

Kopassus officers have been behind several kidnappings of political activists, as well as human rights violations and killings in Aceh, Papua and then-East Timor, since the 1990s.

On Friday, members of the 6,000-strong unit are deployed in counterterrorism and hostage rescue operations, among others.

Human rights watchdog Imparsial's executive director Poengky Indarti said the verdict highlighted a culture of impunity among the military.

"Similar crimes will occur," she told The Straits Times. "For premeditated murder, the law provides for death, or life in prison. The judges had the wherewithal to hand down a higher sentence, but it seems they did not dare do so."

Five other members of the unit were found guilty of assisting in the crime - each was sentenced to a year and nine months in prison. An unrepentant Ucok told supporters outside the court as he was led away: "Once I am out, I will live in Yogyakarta and help people get rid of gangsters."

zakirh@sph.com.sg

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