Indonesia tight-lipped on Australian PM phone call

Indonesia tight-lipped on Australian PM phone call
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The government has not elaborated on upbeat statements by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who phoned President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to discuss the planned execution of two Australian drug-trafficking convicts.

Jokowi and his aides declined to reveal the details of the conversation between the two leaders on Wednesday evening, a conversation that led Abbott to say on Thursday that progress had been made on the issue of the planned executions.

Australian media outlets reported that Abbott, after speaking to Jokowi, whom he referred to as his "friend", on the telephone on Wednesday evening, said he believed Jokowi was "carefully considering Indonesia's position".

"It was a positive sign that the conversation took place," Abbott told reporters in Canberra as quoted by Reuters.

Abbott added that "I don't want to raise hope that might turn out to be dashed", but went on to say that "the fact that the President of Indonesia and the prime minister of Australia can talk candidly about these issues is a sign of the strength of the relationship."

He refused to go into the details of the telephone conversation.

Jokowi has repeatedly rejected clemency for drug-trafficking convicts, including the two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, citing the rampant trafficking of narcotics in the country.

In a previous attempt to negotiate on behalf of the two convicts, Abbott controversially called on the Indonesian government not to forget the aid given by Canberra to Aceh following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and to reconsider clemency for Chan and Sukumaran.

Jokowi aides declined to answer queries on the President's latest position on the case.

Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto said he had no knowledge about the conversation between Jokowi and Abbott. "I don't know. We stayed here [at the Presidential Office, where Jokowi held a series of meetings from Wednesday afternoon until just before 9 p.m]. The President ordered a short break but I do not know [whether the phone call occurred]".

Said Aqil Siradj, the chairman of the country's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdatul Ulama (NU), who met the President on Thursday, said that Jokowi remained consistent in his stance on the planned executions, emphasizing that efforts by and pressure from foreign countries, including Australia, to save the lives of their citizens, would be pointless.

Said added that Jokowi acknowledged that responsibility for their citizens meant that Abbott and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would make continuous appeals to save those on death row.

NU also reiterated its support for the planned executions. "NU has always been supportive," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop has clarified, via phone-call to Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Abbott's comments on tsunami aid, saying the prime minister merely wished to point out the good ties the two countries had long built up, including during the 2014 tsunami, according to Kalla.

International law expert Hikmahanto Juwana deplored Abbott's comments on Thursday, saying they "may create uproar in Indonesia".

"The Indonesian public could get upset with Jokowi since [Abbott's remarks] seemed [to show] that Jokowi was about to change his decision on the executions," he said.

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