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Indonesia rejects Australia offer of swap to stop executions

  • Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, left, attended her judicial review hearing at Sleman District Court in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday. Two convicted Australian smugglers arrived Wednesday at an Indonesian island prison where they will be executed by firing squad along with seven other foreigners, including Veloso, a Philippine national. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

CANBERRA, Australia >> Indonesian officials said Thursday they will reject an Australian offer to swap prisoners as part of a last-ditch attempt to save the lives of two Australian drug smugglers expected to face a firing squad within days.

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly said prisoner swaps might be possible for other crimes in the future, but not for people sentenced to death under Indonesia’s tough anti-drug laws.

"When it comes to this crime, we will say no," he told reporters after meeting with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said earlier Thursday that she made the proposal to her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi, who had agreed to convey it to Widodo. Bishop said she had yet to hear back.

"What we are seeking to do is have an opportunity to talk about options that might be available in the area of prisoner transfer or prisoner swap," Bishop told reporters at a dawn vigil outside Parliament House.

Bishop has offered to repatriate three convicted Indonesian drug criminals in return for the lives of the Australians, Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33, The Australian newspaper reported Thursday.

The proposal was made in a phone call Tuesday night after Indonesia announced the men would be transferred Wednesday from their prison home of a decade on the resort island of Bali to their place of execution on a maximum-security prison island, the newspaper said.

Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott were among 40 lawmakers who gathered near the front doors of Parliament House for a candlelight vigil for the death row prisoners.

Abbott said he had requested another phone conversation with Widodo, a week after his last personal plea for the Australians’ lives.

"I can’t guarantee that the request will be met, but I’ve certainly put in a request because the government and the people of Indonesia need to know that this is important to us," Abbott said.

"We respect Indonesia, we honor the friendship that we have with Indonesia, but we stand up for our values and we stand up for our citizens and these are Australian citizens in extremis," he added.

The Australians are among nine foreign drug criminals who are to be executed soon despite clemency appeals from several of their governments. An Indonesian is also scheduled to be executed.

The preparations at Nusakambangan Island’s prison have been completed, Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo said. He refused to say when the executions would take place.

Besides the two Australians, a Nigerian national born in Spain was also transferred to the island prison off Indonesia’s main island of Java. Two other Nigerians, a Filipino woman and four men from Brazil, France, Ghana and Indonesia are also scheduled to be executed. It was not immediately known how many have been transferred to the island.

Jeff Hammond, a Jakarta-based pastor who has been counselling Chan for four years, said the prisoner "was very upbeat" when they last met at the Bali prison on Monday.

"He’s still praying … that God will provide a miracle for him," Hammond told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The planned executions have soured relations between Indonesia and other countries involved, especially Australia and Brazil. Widodo received phone calls from some foreign leaders asking that the executions be canceled but has rejected their requests. He has vowed not to grant mercy to drug offenders because Indonesia is suffering a "drug emergency."

Prasetyo said he discussed the Australian prisoner swap offer with Foreign Minister Marsudi on Thursday and told her that "it is difficult and I do not think it needs to be considered. This does not mean that we will go head-to-head against Australia. They should understand that this is a serious crime."

Australia has repeatedly pleaded for clemency for its two citizens, who were arrested in April 2005 while trying to smuggle more than 18 pounds of heroin from Bali to Australia.

The Indonesian government recalled its newly designated ambassador to Brazil, Toto Riyanto, last week to protest the postponement of the approval of his credentials by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff amid tensions over the imminent execution of its citizen, Rodrigo Gularte, 42.

The Spain-born Nigerian, Raheem Agbaje Salami, 45, and 30-year-old Filipino Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso have also been convicted of drug smuggling.

Attorney General Prasetyo said authorities are waiting for the completion of a last-minute judicial review of Veloso’s case.

Indonesia executed six drug convicts including foreigners in January. More than 130 people are on death row, including 57 drug convicts.


Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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