Australia wary of escalating rift after Indonesia executions

2015-04-29 22:04
Chintu Sukumaran, left, brother of Myuran Sukumaran, an Australian on death row, arrives at Wijayapura ferry port to cross to the prison island of Nusakambangan, in Cilacap, Indonesia on April 28 2015. (Tatan Syuflana, AP)

Chintu Sukumaran, left, brother of Myuran Sukumaran, an Australian on death row, arrives at Wijayapura ferry port to cross to the prison island of Nusakambangan, in Cilacap, Indonesia on April 28 2015. (Tatan Syuflana, AP)

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Canberra - Australia said it would withdraw its ambassador to Indonesia after two Australians were among eight drug traffickers executed by the Southeast Asian country on Wednesday, but was wary of escalating hostilities with its neighbour despite a public outcry.

The executions by firing squad of the eight men - two Australians, four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian - attracted wide international condemnation and intense Australian media coverage.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said given that Indonesia has asked for clemency for its own nationals facing execution in other countries, "it is incomprehensible why it absolutely refuses to grant clemency for lesser crimes on its own territory."

But there was unexpected joy in the Philippines, where the government won an 11th-hour stay of execution for a Philippine woman also on death row on a drug conviction.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott - whose country has a pivotal but occasionally brittle relationship with Indonesia - reacted swiftly, announcing that Ambassador Paul Grigson would be recalled this week even before the executions of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, were officially confirmed.

Australia, which has abolished capital punishment, had never before made such a move in retaliation for a citizen's execution.

"We respect Indonesia's sovereignty, but we do deplore what's been done and this cannot be simply business as usual," Abbott told reporters.

Outraged Australians, meanwhile, called for a cut in foreign aid to Indonesia, less cooperation between the countries' police forces and a tourist boycott of the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Australia is angry that Sukumaran and Chan were executed despite having ongoing court appeals, and that Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo ignored evidence of their rehabilitation during their 10 years in prison before rejecting their clemency applications.

Australia and Indonesia's testy relationship improved a year ago when Indonesian Ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema returned to Canberra six months after he was recalled over accusations that Australians tapped the cellphones of the former Indonesian president, his wife and eight ministers and officials in 2009.

Abbott said on Wednesday that Indonesia, a developing country with a population more than 10 times larger than Australia's 24 million people, "will become more important as time goes on" to Australia.

"I would say to people: Yes, you are absolutely entitled to be angry, but we've got to be very careful to ensure that we do not allow our anger to make a bad situation worse," Abbott said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, however, did not rule out reducing Australia's foreign aid to Indonesia. Australia gives about 600 million Australian dollars ($480m) a year to Indonesia and is the country's biggest donor after Japan.

Lasting damage

In January, six convicted drug smugglers, including five from Brazil, the Netherlands, Vietnam, Nigeria and Malawi, were executed at the same island prison, prompting the Netherlands and Brazil to recall their ambassadors.

Greg Fealy, an Australian National University expert on Indonesian politics, said the Netherlands and Brazil had demonstrated that countries could recall their ambassadors without triggering Indonesian retaliation.

But he said tying aid to the executions would be provocative. "There is a perception among Indonesians that Australia needs Indonesia more than Indonesia needs Australia," he said.

Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo dismissed concerns that Indonesia had done lasting damage to international relationships with the executions this year.

"It's just a momentary reaction," Prasetyo told reporters on Wednesday.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement that the execution of a second Brazilian citizen in Indonesia this year "marks a serious event in the relations between the two countries".

Michael Chan, brother of Andrew Chan, who became a Christian pastor during his decade in prison and married an Indonesian woman on Monday, reacted with anger to the executions.

"I have just lost a courageous brother to a flawed Indonesian legal system," he tweeted.

In Manila, the stay of Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso's execution sparked celebrations in a nation that has agonised in the past over executions and tragedies that befell poor Filipino workers abroad.

About a tenth of the Philippines' 100 million people have been forced to leave their homeland in search of jobs and better opportunities.

Outside the Indonesian Embassy in the Philippine capital, about 250 people holding a candlelight vigil broke into applause in the wee hours after learning that Veloso, a 30-year-old mother of two, had escaped death.

Veloso, 30, was arrested in 2010 at the airport in the central Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, where officials discovered about 2.5kg of heroin hidden in her luggage.

Prasetyo, the attorney general, said Veloso was granted a stay of execution because her alleged boss has been arrested in the Philippines, and the authorities there requested Indonesian assistance in pursuing the case.

Sukumaran and Chan were arrested in 2005 for attempting to smuggle more than 8kg of heroin to Australia as part of a group dubbed the Bali Nine.

Read more on:    indonesia  |  australia

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