Colourful Alaskan separatist missing

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (Reuter) - The separatist crusader Joe Vogler, who for 50 years has delcared that the United States should have no authority over Alaska, has gone missing.

Eighty-year-old Mr Vogler - freelance miner, Alaskan Independence Party founder, frequent candidate for governor and advocate for secession of the biggest US state, was last reported seen on 30 May and listed as missing on 1 June.

His disappearance triggered a fervent but fruitless search. Now the Alaska state police are treating the case as murder.

Mr Vogler's death would close a colourful chapter in Alaska's history. An eccentric, he is recognisable by his trademark fedora, string ties, his bulldozing of aspen and willow trees ('boreal weeds', he called them) and his reedy voice, which he used to heap scorn on bureaucrats, environmental laws and 'posy-sniffers'.

His followers are now talking of government conspiracies and vow more resistance against institutions, which they say have closed too much of Alaska to development.

'We're playing a whole different game in Alaska politics now. One of us is missing and probably murdered,' said Lynette Clark, a miner, radio talk-show host and acting party chief. 'Not one more drop of water, not one more inch of ground is going to be given up to bureaucrats, either state or federal.'

The state police have ruled out the conspiracy theories naming the National Park Service, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the Central Intelligence Agency and the United Nations.