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Indonesia delays final appeal hearing on Australian drug pair

A final appeal hearing on two Australians on death row in Indonesia has been postponed. The Australian government has offered to bear the costs of keeping the men in prison for life in a bid to stay the executions.

The men, 31-year-old Andrew Chan and 33-year-old Myuran Sukumaran, have lodged an appeal against the rejection of a clemency request by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Their case will now be heard in a week's time, on March 19.

Once all legal appeals have been dismissed, Indonesia's government will have to give 72 hours' notice before the executions go ahead.

The men have been in prison since 2005, when they were convicted as the ringleaders of a group of nine Australians arrested trying to smuggle heroin out of the country. They were sentenced to death, while the others received prison terms between 20 years and life.

The men were recently transferred from Kerobokan prison to the

prison island of Nusakambangan,

off the main island of Java, in preparation for their death by firing squad.

Indonesia is known for its harsh drug-trafficking laws, putting to death six people, including one Indonesian national, just last month.

More than 100 people are on the country's death row, including 57 convicted of drugs offenses.

Last-ditch efforts

The Australian government's efforts to stop the sentences from being enacted have further strained its ties with the southeast Asian nation.

On Tuesday Indonesia's minister for political, legal and security affairs, Tedjo Edy Purdjianto, called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to keep Australia's criticism of the planned executions under control. He said Australia should be more appreciative of Indonesia's efforts in holding back asylum seekers, warning of a potential

"human tsunami."

Last Thursday, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi dismissed a proposed

prisoner-exchange deal

in which the men would be swapped for three Indonesians jailed in Australia.

Canberra countered with a bid to cover the costs of keeping Chan and Sukumaran in an Indonesian jail for life, in return for guaranteed permanent stays of execution.

Australian media is reporting the offer was made in a letter by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to her Indonesian counterpart last week. It was just one of several other suggestions to try and stop the executions from going ahead.

Bishop said as yet she had not heard back on the proposal.

"We haven't had a specific response to that suggestion," she said.

Indonesian Foreign Office spokesman Armanatha Nasir, however, said this offer had also been rejected.

"We emphasise that this is not an issue of negotiation. This is upholding the law. If a country starts to negotiate law, that is a form of violation. So I emphasise that there is no negotiation."

Waiting game

A spokesman for Indonesia's Attorney-General's Office (AGO), Tony Spontana, told reporters that no executions would take place until "everything is clear."

"There has been no change of plans from the AGO that all executions will be all at once," he said.

The pair is set to be executed along with eight others also on drugs charges. A final execution date cannot be set until all ten prisoners have exhausted all legal avenues.

A separate court hearing on an appeal by a French prisoner was also delayed until March 25.

The verdict on the case of the only female on death row, a Philippine national, could come as early as this week.

an/tj (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)

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