JAKARTA/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Indonesia owes it to Australia not to execute two Australian drug offenders on death row, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday, ratcheting up a diplomatic war of words that is threatening to sour relations between the neighbors.
Australia has been pursuing an eleventh-hour campaign to save the lives of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, 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.
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 in assistance it rendered after the disaster that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia’s Aceh province.
Indonesian Foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir told reporters in Jakarta he hoped Abbott’s statement did not “reflect the true colors of Australians”.
“Threats are not part of diplomatic language and no one responds well to threats,” the Indonesian spokesman said.
Indonesia on Tuesday postponed the transfer of the two Australians and three other death-row inmates to another prison for execution, because of what authorities said were medical concerns and families’ requests for more time with the prisoners.
Abbott and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have appealed to Indonesia not to execute prisoners for drug crimes. Also facing the death penalty in Indonesia for drugs are citizens of Brazil, France, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines.
The two Australians were accused of being leaders of the Bali Nine, a group of nine Australians arrested on the resort island in 2005 and convicted of attempting to smuggle 18 lb (8 kg) of heroin to Australia.
Other members of the group have been sentenced to long prison terms.
Indonesia has defended its use of capital punishment, saying it is not targeted at any one country, but rather at what it considers an “extraordinary crime”.
Australia and Indonesia have a long history of diplomatic tension, which has periodically complicated cooperation on issues such as people-smuggling.
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.
Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel