JAKARTA: The last surviving bomber in the Bali blasts that killed more than 200 people two decades ago has expressed regret for the deadliest terror attack in Southeast Asia ahead of its 20th anniversary on Wednesday, but victims have rejected his apology.

Ali Imron was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the blasts that ripped through a nightclub and a bar on the Indonesian resort island, killing 202 people including 88 Australians. "I will regret it until I die. And I will apologise until I die," he told AFP uncuffed in front of an Indonesian flag and a picture of President Joko Widodo at Jakarta's sprawling metro police headquarters.

But victims and the Australian government have refused to accept the remorse of the remaining members of the Bali bomb cell. "When people are in a bind they will say anything to get out of the problem," said Thiolina Marpaung, a 47-year-old survivor left with permanent eye injuries.

"He said that because he was sentenced to life." Imron helped mastermind the bombings. He built the devices, planted a bomb outside the US consulate in Bali, and trained the attackers who detonated a suicide vest and a van loaded with explosives.

The 52-year-old is the only living Bali bomber still alive after the attack. Now he languishes in a drug offenders' facility, instead of prison, after claiming repentance and aiding Indonesia's deradicalisation efforts.

His brothers Amrozi and Mukhlas were executed by firing squad on a central Javan prison island. But Imron was saved from execution after showing remorse and divulging the plot to investigators. The convicted mass murderer now helps the Indonesian government in a deradicalisation programme experts criticise for ineffectiveness.

'Justice cut short'

Indonesia in August approved parole for Bali bombmaker Umar Patek. After his capture in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in 2011, he claims to have rehabilitated after serving half of his 20-year sentence.

But Jakarta has held off freeing him after angering the Australian government. "We have made representations to the Indonesian Government about the release of individuals convicted for their role in the Bali bombings, noting the distress it would cause victims and families," an Australian department of foreign affairs and trade spokesperson told AFP.

"Ultimately, these are matters for the Government of Indonesia and its domestic legal processes." Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong will attend a memorial ceremony Wednesday at Canberra's Bali consulate, an Australian diplomat told AFP.

Imron is hoping for a similar decision on his sentence. He said he submitted a request for a presidential pardon this year but received no response. There have been no reports of Indonesian officials discussing his release.

Indonesia's National Counter Terrorism Agency, justice ministry and a presidential adviser did not respond to a request for comment. While the programme's terms for an early release are strict-participants must pledge allegiance to Indonesia and disavow their networks-the potential release of convicted mass murderers is highly controversial.

Experts are critical of leniency for militants like Imron who aligned with the now-banned Jemaah Islamiyah group, Al-Qaeda's much-diminished network in Indonesia. "How do they think? Nobody knows. You never know if it's sincere or not. But you have to look at the actions," said Sana Jaffrey, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta.

Imron said he acted on the orders of his older brother following the US invasion of Afghanistan but now calls it a "wrong act of jihad". He claimed to have since helped deradicalise at least 400 jihadists. He has also fronted a comic book campaign that preached tolerance to young Indonesians. If released, he said he would "continue walking on the path of a deradicalisation campaign".

'Survival mechanism'

It is a message analysts said Imron may be promoting in hope of securing an early release. He was also speaking in the presence of an officer from Indonesia's elite counter-terrorism unit. "It's part of his survival mechanism. This is something he has to say," said Southeast Asian terrorism specialist Noor Huda Ismail. It is hard to tell if Imron has truly deradicalised, with his word his only evidence.

He showed little emotion when speaking about the attack and sought to re-emphasise his counter-extremism work despite being a jailed extremist himself. Whatever the case, Imron wants to tell the people whose lives he impacted that his actions were wrong.

"I will always apologise profusely to them," he said. But for Marpaung only God can judge Imron. "Please don't give a sentence cut," she said. "He can say that he has repented and he has changed, but only God truly knows the truth." - AFP