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Australia, Indonesia discuss prisoner swap

Prisoner swap ... death row drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are unlikely to benefit (Reuters)
Australian and Indonesian Government ministers are close to signing a prisoner exchange agreement.

The deal could apply to high-profile Australian prisoners in Indonesian jails, including Schapelle Corby and some Bali nine members.

The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer agrees with Indonesian Law Minister Hamid Awaluddin that a prisoner exchange agreement between Indonesia and Australia could be completed by September.

Dr Awaluddin says that death row drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran - members of the Bali nine - are unlikely to benefit.

"There is one problem since you don't have death penalty and we do have a problem later on in terms of executing," he said.

He says he concludes there is probably a very low chance of transferring those prisoners.

Dr Awaluddin says he hopes to finalise talks with Attorney-General Philip Ruddock at a ministerial forum in Bali today.

Other Bali nine members and Corby will only benefit if the law is retrospective.

Mr Downer says it is not yet clear whether the agreement will be retrospective, but he is confident it can be finalised soon.

"For as long as there's a willingness on both of our countries parts to conclude that agreement, that should be done reasonably quickly," he said.

"It's not something that's particularly complicated, so yes I'm optimistic we can do that pretty quickly."

Mr Downer wants the deal to be retrospective.

"We would be happy for it to apply to all Australians who are imprisoned in Indonesia and that includes Schapelle Corby and the Bali nine," he said.

Corby was found guilty last May of importing a narcotic into Indonesia, and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Plea for mercy

Indonesia has been urged to show mercy in its prisoner transfer deal with Australia.

Father Tim Harris - the family priest of Bali nine drug smugglers Scott Rush and Michael Czugaj - says he hopes the Brisbane pair will be able to serve their time in Australia.

"Whilst this is good news from one point of view, if it's not retrospective I'm afraid that these two young men are going to be away from their families for the rest of their lives or a good part of their lives anyway," he said.

Vicki Czugaj says a transfer deal would also help prisoners' families.

"It's incredible travelling over there all the time to visit, supporting him in the jail because they're not really looked after in the jails over there," she said.

"So you actually have to fund that as well."

Meanwhile, the father of convicted Bali nine drug courier Martin Stephens says he is not getting too excited about a possible prisoner exchange agreement.

Martin Stephens is appealing against a life sentence and his father Bill says without firm details of the deal, it is difficult to be optimistic.

"We've had a lot of downers and there's been a few uppers but a lot of downers and we sort of feel that Martin, and where he is and what he's there for, is very hard to bear," he said.

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