Indonesian court clears ex-soldier of all charges in Papua rights abuse trial

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court on Thursday acquitted a retired army officer in the fatal shooting of four teenagers in Papua in 2014, crushing hopes the military would be held accountable for alleged abuses in the country's restive easternmost region.

Held in an infrequently used human rights court, the seven-week trial saw public prosecutors bring charges of "crimes against humanity" against retired army major Isak Sattu for his alleged role in ordering the fatal shooting.

Presiding judge Sutisna Sawati on Thursday said the defendant had been found not guilty, and was cleared of all charges.

The case relates to an incident in the Papuan district of Paniai in 2014 when security forces allegedly opened fire on a crowd of hundreds of residents who had gathered to protest against the beating a child, killing four and injuring 17.

Yones Douw, a lawyer and representative for the families of the victims, said the trial was only held to "create a good image for Indonesia".

"Since the beginning of the trial we rejected it because there was only one suspect and we just knew he would be freed," he said.

Prosecutors, who alleged that Isak had failed in his command responsibility by not stopping his troops, had called for the him to be jailed for 10 years.

Isak's lawyer, Syahrir Cakkari, said he was cleared of all charges because he was not responsible for the actions of the military personnel involved in the incident.

Conflict between indigenous Papuans and the country's security forces occasionally flares up in the remote and resource-rich province, where a long-running battle for independence has been waged since the region was brought under Indonesian control following a controversial 1969 vote that was overseen by the United Nations.

President Joko Widodo has paid particular attention to trying to improve development and social welfare in Papua, and had promised to ensure justice for the victims of the Paniai incident.

(Reporting by Ananda Teresia in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)

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