Abbott risks diplomatic blunder to stop deaths

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s attempt to save two Australian drug smugglers by making a veiled ‘threat’ to Indonesian aid may have unwound previous efforts and threatened diplomatic ties.

On Wednesday, Mr Abbott alluded to the $1 billion aid Australia provided after the Indonesian Ocean tsunami, and warned of an “unambiguous” response if Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are killed.

“I would say to the Indonesian people and the government, we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time,” he said.

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The comments have reportedly sparked a backlash from Indonesia and within Mr Abbott’s own party.

Indonesia’s foreign affairs ministry labelled the comments “threats”.

“No one responds well to threats,” foreign affairs ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said.

One anonymous Liberal source reportedly told Fairfax that Mr Abbott had undone “a lot of good work”, while another described the coments as “awful”.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have themselves moved to cool the brewing diplomatic row, urging that any representations be ‘firm but respectful’.

Melbourne barrister Michael O’Connell SC visited the condemned Australians in Kerobokan jail on Thursday, where he said they were remarkably well under the circumstances, but were concerned about the Prime Minister’s rhetoric.

“I think Andrew and Myuran are very concerned that people remain respectful when they make representations on their behalf,” Mr O’Connell said.

“But of course they want those representations to be firmly made.”

On Thursday, Mr Abbott backtracked, saying his comments were merely a reminder of the depth and strength of the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

“I was pointing out the depth of the friendship between Australia and Indonesia, and the fact that Australia has been there for Indonesia when Indonesia has been in difficulty,” he told reporters in Tasmania.

Chan and Sukumaran are enjoying a few days’ reprieve from the firing squad after Indonesia was caught unprepared for the executions and delayed moving them from their Bali jail cells.

Indonesia has not announced a new schedule for the men’s move from Kerobokan prison, or their execution date.

But planning goes on regardless, with more meetings to discuss security arrangements for the Australians’ transfer to Nusakambangan island scheduled for Friday.

Almost 2500 people were in Melbourne’s Federation Square on Wednesday night when a letter from Sukumaran was read.

“Whatever happens, I know that me and Andrew are good people now, and even though we have been in prison with a death sentence, we have been truly blessed,” he wrote.

—with AAP.

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