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Australia offers to pay for Bali pair's jail time if spared

[SYDNEY] Australia has offered to pay the cost of life imprisonment for two drug smugglers on death row in Indonesia if they are spared the firing squad, as the pair's latest appeal was on Thursday put back until next week.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made the offer in a letter to her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi as Canberra explores all avenues to convince Jakarta not to execute Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

They are among several foreigners, including a Frenchman, a Brazilian, three Nigerians and convicts from the Philippines and Ghana, who could be shot dead any time for drug-related crimes.

Ms Bishop suggested a prisoner-swap with Indonesia in a tense phone call with Marsudi on March 3, which was rejected, and in a follow-up letter said Canberra was willing to pay for the pair's life imprisonment costs.

"As discussed, the Australian government would be prepared to cover the costs of the ongoing life imprisonment of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran should a transfer not be possible," Ms Bishop wrote in the letter, released by her department.

"The vast majority of Australians very strongly support the government's efforts to seek clemency for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran.

"We would not want to see their execution compromise the strong ties we have worked so hard to foster over many years," she added.

In a reply, also supplied by Ms Bishop's office, Marsudi again rejected a prisoner swap but did not touch on the reimbursement offer.

'MERCY, FORGIVENESS, HUMANITY'

Australia has repeatedly called for clemency, fraying ties between the neighbours.

Asked by reporters if Jakarta had given up listening to Australia because it was fed-up with being told what to do, Ms Bishop said: "We are not telling it what to do.

"We are asking in the most respectful way that President (Joko) Widodo show the same mercy and forgiveness and humanity to two Australians on death row as the Indonesian authorities ask of other countries who have Indonesian citizens on death row." Sukumaran and Chan, ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug trafficking gang, were sentenced to death in 2006 for trying to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.

They recently lost their appeals for presidential clemency, typically the final chance to avoid the firing squad, and have been moved to Nusakambangan prison island off Java, where their executions are due to take place.

Their lawyers have mounted a final legal challenge to Mr Joko's decision to reject their pleas for clemency, claiming he failed to assess their rehabilitation or give reasons for his decision.

The Jakarta State Administrative Court on Thursday adjourned the case until March 19 after the government's legal team turned up without complete paperwork.

State prosecutors need a letter of authorisation to be able to present the president's response to the Australians' challenge, but the document had not been signed by the attorney-general, as required.

The delay signals the men's executions may not be imminent.

A Frenchman and a Filipina on death row, who are expected to be executed at the same time as the Australians, are also pursuing last-ditch legal bids that are unlikely to conclude soon.

AFP