Indonesia rejects Australia's offer to pay for 2 death-row drug convicts' jail time

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia said on Thursday it had rejected an offer from Australia to pay the cost of life imprisonment for two drug smugglers if they are spared the firing squad, as Jakarta signalled the executions might not take place for weeks.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made the offer in a letter to her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi as Canberra explores all avenues to convince Jakarta not to execute the Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

However, the Attorney-General's Office confirmed on Thursday they would stick to an initial plan of putting all the offenders to death at the same time, meaning the date might be pushed back for some time as the authorities wait for several to complete legal appeals.

Ms Bishop suggested a prisoner swop with Indonesia in a tense phone call with Ms Marsudi on March 3, which was rejected, and in a follow-up letter said Canberra was willing to pay for the pair's life imprisonment costs. "As discussed, the Australian government would be prepared to cover the costs of the ongoing life imprisonment of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran should a transfer not be possible," Ms Bishop wrote in the letter, released by her department. "The vast majority of Australians very strongly support the government's efforts to seek clemency for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran."

But Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said later that the offer of paying for the men's imprisonment had also been rejected.

"The death penalty has already been decided by the courts," he told AFP. "This is not a negotiation, a legal decision has been taken."

The spokesman added Jakarta "regretted" that the details of the ministers' communications appeared to have been leaked by Canberra, as "diplomatic norms dictate that we do not communicate or do our diplomacy through the media".

It was a further sign that the impending executions are testing the neighbours' ties, just as they were recovering from a row over spying.

Sukumaran and Chan, ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug trafficking gang, were sentenced to death in 2006 for trying to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.

They recently lost their appeals for presidential clemency, typically the final chance to avoid the firing squad, and have been moved to Nusakambangan prison island off Java, where their executions are due to take place.

Their lawyers have mounted a final legal challenge to Widodo's decision to reject their pleas for clemency, claiming he failed to assess their rehabilitation or give reasons for his decision.

They are among several foreigners, including a Frenchman, a Brazilian, three Nigerians and convicts from the Philippines and Ghana, who are expected to be executed in the near future for drug-related crimes.

The Jakarta State Administrative Court on Thursday adjourned the case until March 19 after the government's legal team turned up without complete paperwork.

The Indonesian authorities have long insisted that a rejection of a plea for presidential clemency was a death row convict's final chance to avoid execution, and they would push ahead regardless of any further legal bids.

However, following an international outcry, they softened their tone, suggesting they would wait for pending appeals to conclude.

On Thursday, Mr Tony Spontana, spokesman for the Attorney-General's Office, shot down speculation that the authorities may try to speed up the process by abandoning a plan to execute all the convicts at the same time.

He told reporters that "the plan to conduct the executions together at the same time has not been changed" - meaning they may not go ahead for some time, due to pending appeals.

Several convicts, including a Frenchman and a Filipina, are pursuing last-ditch legal bids that may take weeks to complete.

Mr Spontana also revealed that the only Indonesian among the group set to be executed, Zainal Abidin, last week had his application for a judicial review rejected by the Supreme Court, adding he hoped the court would dismiss all such applications.

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