Jakarta. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said on Monday that Indonesia was prepared to return the $1 billion in aid that Australia provided following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.
The comments were in response to a reminder from Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who last week mentioned the relief when making a plea for two Australian drug traffickers on death row in Indonesia.
“I have explained that we understood during the tsunami, there was humanitarian aid from 56 countries, including from Australia,” Kalla said on Monday. “If it was not considered humanitarian aid, we will return it.”
Abbot’s comments have struck a raw nerve with many Indonesians, and in some major cities protests and theatrical coin collections have started.
Twitter and Facebook have been flooded with messages under the hashtag #CoinsFor Australia — a campaign to repay Australia and a demand its neighbor respect Indonesia’s legal system.
Since making the comments, Abbot has claimed they were not a threat but instead the aid referred to the strength of the two countries’ bilateral relations.
Kalla said he had been communicating with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and he had explained that the execution of Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan — ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine heroin trafficking group — was not a decision made solely by President Joko Widodo.
“She appreciated the explanation. She understands Indonesian law and I have told her it wasn’t the president who decided on the death penalty but an independent and objective court,” Kalla said.
Sukumaran, 33, and Chan, 31, were caught trying to smuggle heroin out of Bali in 2005. They are among the next group of inmates to be executed by a firing squad.