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Australia offers Indonesia prisoner swap in 11th-hour bid to save drug pair

Australia has asked Indonesia to accept a prisoner swap to save the lives of two drug smugglers facing imminent execution. Lawmakers held a candlelit vigil for the pair in the capital.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the ABC that she had suggested a prisoner swap with Jakarta in a phone call with her Indonesian counterpart. The idea is to repatriate three Indonesian drug criminals in Australia for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, convicted Australian drug smugglers whom Indonesia says it will execute soon by firing squad.

"I've spoken to her (Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi) on a number of occasions about this, and I wanted to explore any other avenues or opportunities to save the lives of these two young men who have been so remarkably rehabilitated," Bishop said.

"She undertook to pass on my comments to the president."

Jakarta Andrew Chan Myuran Sukumaran Australien Gefangene Todesstrafe

Andrew Chan (l) with Myuran Sukumaran (r)

Chan, 31, and Sukumaran, 33, were convicted in 2006 as the ringleaders of the so-called 'Bali Nine' group, caught in 2005 trying to smuggle 8.3 kilograms (18.3 pounds) of heroin out of Bali. Sentences in the case ranged from 15 years' jail to death.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, a vocal supporter of capital punishment, has refused to grant the pair clemency.

Chan and Sukumaran were

transfered to the Indonesian prison island of Nusakambangan

on Wednesday for execution. No date has yet been set, however. They are among several other foreigners due to be executed soon.

Bishop's comments followed an impromptu candlelight vigil outside parliament house in Canberra early on Thursday, attended by lawmakers. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had requested another telephone call with Widodo to asked for the men's lives to be spared.

"We respect Indonesia and we honor the frienship that we have with Indonesia, but we stand up for our values and for our citizens, and these are Australian citizens in extremis," Abbott said.

An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman cast doubt on the legality of a prisoner swap.

"Basically to our understanding, in our legal system, we do not have such a mechanism so I don't know how this would pan out," Arrmanatha Nasir told news agency AFP.

jr/bw (AP, dpa, AFP)

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