Marooning of Alaskan muggers 'a publicity stunt'

Anchorage - Two Alaskan Indian youths were being held last night by fellow tribe members who have ordered them to spend more than a year on separate uninhabited islands as punishment for mugging. But there was continuing public scepticism over whether the banishment would go ahead, writes Phil Reeves.

The 17-year-olds were sentenced by a self-proclaimed tribal court of Tlingit men to spend 12 to 18 months on two of the hundreds of islands off south-east Alaska for attacking a pizza delivery man and robbing him of dollars 40 ( pounds 26). The court, denounced as bogus by bona fide American Indian organisations, said they will have sleeping bags, wood stoves, and digging forks, but will have to build their own shelters.

The verdict - which was supported by the youths' victim - came after a judge in Washington state agreed to return them to their fishing village on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island for a dose of tribal justice. But the affair has been overshadowed by suspicions that it is a stunt to sell the story rather than settle a legal issue. If the banishment goes ahead, it is unclear where the two will be sent: much of the surrounding archipelago is part of a US national forest and administrators have vowed not to give space to the boys. The tribally-owned islands in the area are relatively close to shore.