SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday that Indonesia’s sympathy for the families of two drug traffickers it executed was a good sign for resuming strong ties between the nations.
Canberra withdrew its ambassador to Jakarta after Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 34, were executed by firing squad along with six others on Wednesday despite a storm of international criticism and pleas from their families.
Abbott said it was an encouraging sign for the relationship that Indonesia’s ambassador in Canberra, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, had acknowledged the feeling in Australia against the executions.
“It’s a sign that decent people in Indonesia appreciate the anger that Australians feel at these cruel and unnecessary deaths,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
“And it’s a sign that, in time, the good and strong friendship between Australia and Indonesia can be resumed.”
Kesoema said in a statement late Thursday that “the Indonesian people and government express our sympathies to the families and friends of the deceased”.
The ambassador added that good relations with Australia were important to his country, and Jakarta remained strongly committed to improving and strengthening the overall bilateral relationship.
Abbott said while it was a difficult moment in the Australia-Indonesia relationship, he was confident that both countries would do what was necessary to rebuild ties between the nations, which are key allies in counter-terrorism efforts.
“Because despite the difficulties of the last few days, despite the very understandable anger that so many Australians feel, in the end, it is in everyone’s best interests that this relationship can be restored as quickly as possible,” Abbott said.
Indonesia is a significant economic partner for Australia, with two-way trade in goods and services reaching Aus$14.9 billion (US$11.8 billion) in 2013.
Abbott has stressed the importance of building trade ties with Indonesia, which he has said is the most important country to Australia due to its size, proximity and developing power.
Jakarta’s execution of eight death row prisoners—seven foreigners and one Indonesian — drew worldwide condemnation, but Indonesia defended the killings as vital for its “war” on drugs.
In Australia, a portrait of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who refused pleas for clemency from Chan and Sukumaran, was taken down from the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.
Abbott would not say whether Australia had approached Widodo’s political opponent Prabowo Subianto to plead for mercy for the Australians, ringleaders of a gang which attempted to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.
Prabowo reportedly wrote to Widodo last weekend to say that if the president were to “postpone the executions indefinitely”, he would support him.
“We made every effort—through official channels, through unofficial channels, publicly and privately—to appeal to the better angels of their natures,” Abbott said.