JAKARTA, Indonesia The Indonesian government has ordered officials to extinguish dozens of illegally lit forest fires that have sent a blanket of smoke across Southeast Asia before the president visits Singapore next month, a senior official said Monday.
Fires from land-clearing in Sumatra and Borneo islands have reportedly affected the air quality in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and caused respiratory problems among some people.
“The government has targeted extinguishing all hot spots by Sept. 2, before the working visit of the president to Singapore next month,” said Sofyan Djalil, minister of communication and information.
Last week, Singapore advised ships in its waters to navigate with caution because visibility could be “significantly reduced” due to the haze, while Thailand has also complained.
Residents in parts of Malaysia and Indonesia have been forced to wear masks to protect themselves from the haze in recent weeks, and authorities have reported a spike in respiratory complaints.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered local officials last week to put out the fires and instructed police chiefs to arrest those responsible for setting the fires, Djalil said.
Djalil said 31 companies are under investigation over the fires.
Meanwhile, Kusmayanto Kadiman, minister of research and technology, said a Hercules plane left for the West Sumatran town of Padang late Monday to prepare for cloud seeding.
The government announced last week that it would induce rain and drop water bombs starting this week to extinguish the land-clearing fires, which have occurred in the region during most dry seasons since 1998.
During cloud seeding, silver iodide or dry ice is released into clouds from a plane to induce rain, but its effectiveness has been questioned by some scientists.
Local officials said a total of about 56 hot spots were detected in Sumatra and Borneo as of Monday.