Indonesia hits back against 'threats' by Aussie PM Abbott over planned Bali Nine executions

The Kerobokan prison in Denpasar on Bali island, where two Australian prisoners, part of the so-called "Bali Nine" heroin smuggling gang, are currently held on death row. Indonesia's Foreign Ministry reacted sharply on Wednesday, Feb 18, to comm
The Kerobokan prison in Denpasar on Bali island, where two Australian prisoners, part of the so-called "Bali Nine" heroin smuggling gang, are currently held on death row. Indonesia's Foreign Ministry reacted sharply on Wednesday, Feb 18, to comments by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott linking the past provision of aid to the imminent execution of two Australian convicts, saying "no one responds well to threats". -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's Foreign Ministry reacted sharply on Wednesday to comments by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott linking the past provision of aid to the imminent execution of two Australian convicts, saying "no one responds well to threats".

"I hope the statement made (by Abbott) does not reflect the true colours of Australians," Foreign Ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir told reporters. "...Threats are not part of diplomatic language and no one responds well to threats."

Mr Abbott had said Indonesia owed it to Australia not to execute two Australian drug offenders, Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, on death row, in remarks that ratcheted up a diplomatic war of words that is threatening to sour relations between the neighbours.

Mr Abbott urged Indonesia to remember the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, saying Australia would feel "grievously let down" if the executions proceeded despite the roughly A$1 billion (S$1.05 billion) in assistance it rendered Indonesia during that tragedy. "I would say to the Indonesian people and the Indonesian Government: We in Australia are always there to help you, and we hope that you might reciprocate," he told reporters. "I don't want to prejudice the best possible relations with a very important friend and neighbour. But I've got to say that we can't just ignore this kind of thing."

Australia has been pursuing an eleventh-hour campaign to save the lives of Sukumaran and Chan, two members of the so-called Bali Nine, convicted in 2005 as the ringleaders of a plot to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia. Indonesia has harsh penalties for drug trafficking and resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap.

Indonesia on Tuesday postponed the transfer of five convicts, including the two Australians, to another prison for execution, prompted by what authorities said were medical concerns and families' requests for more time with the prisoners.

Mr Abbott and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon have appealed to Indonesia not to execute the prisoners for drug crimes, also among them citizens of Brazil, France, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, however, has defended its right to use capital punishment against drug convicts and has denied requests for clemency.

The case has enormous resonance as a domestic political issue in Australia, and Mr Abbott ratcheted up the rhetoric at the weekend amid a growing campaign to boycott travel to Bali, a destination favoured by Australian tourists.

Australia and Indonesia have a long history of diplomatic tension, which has periodically complicated cooperation on regional issues, including people smuggling and intelligence.

Indonesia recalled its envoy and froze military and intelligence cooperation in 2013 after reports that Canberra had spied on top Indonesian officials, including former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's wife.

Full diplomatic cooperation was restored last May, but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last month refused to rule out withdrawing Australia's ambassador from Jakarta if the executions went ahead.