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Australia Considers Taking Singapore to International Court to Prevent Execution

Australia is considering taking Singapore to the International Court of Justice in the hopes of preventing the execution of a heroin trafficker. Opposition politicians are also urging the government to impose sanctions in a bid to save Van Nguyen, who is an Australian citizen.

Time is running out for 25-year-old Van Nguyen. Singapore has said the Vietnamese-born Australian will hang next week.

But the Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Monday he would talk to the condemned man's legal team about taking the case to the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, in The Hague.

Mr. Downer concedes the chances of success are slim, as Singapore would first need to recognize the court's jurisdiction and the case would have to be heard at very short notice.

But Van Nguyen's Australian lawyer, Lex Lasry, says every avenue is worth pursuing.

"Australia would have to bring the action. That means Australia has to be persuaded that the action is able to be brought and that Singapore can be brought before the court as well," he said. "It's not a matter of being optimistic. It's just a matter of trying everything we can in order to avoid his death."

Van Nguyen's legal advisers argue that the mandatory death penalty imposed by Singapore breaches international law.

They also hope to persuade leaders attending this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta to press Singapore to stop the execution.

Van Nguyen was caught trafficking 400 grams of heroin from Cambodia to Australia via Singapore in 2002. He told police he was smuggling the consignment to help pay off debts owed by his twin brother, who was a drug addict.

Australia has repeatedly pleaded for clemency on the grounds that Van Nguyen has no previous criminal convictions. Canberra has also argued he could help investigations into drug syndicates if allowed to live.

The case has aroused great public sympathy in Australia and opposition politicians have pressed the government to impose economic sanctions on Singapore.

But the government has refused to consider such a move, saying it would damage Australia's broader interests.

The condemned man's mother and twin brother were flying to Singapore Monday to visit him.