Indonesia — Indonesian officials denied Thursday they were ignoring international offers to help combat increasing haze problems from forest fires in the region, claiming they would welcome any form of assistance other than manpower to tackle widespread blazes in the eastern part of the archipelago.
Masnellyarti Hilman, deputy for environmental damage control at the State Ministry for the Environment, said Indonesia was still capable of tackling the forest fires on its own.
“If we can deal with it on our own, why do we need to seek help from others?” she said.
Reuters reported Wednesday that Indonesia, home to the world’s second-largest area of rainforest, had *appeared to bat away’ offers from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei to help deal with the haze problem.
Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, who held a press conference after attending a ministerial meeting in Singapore, seeming to evade questions from journalists on the matter.
He did not pick up his mobile phone when contacted for comment Thursday. Last week, however, he said he would welcome any help from neighboring countries.
“We have very good cooperation with neighboring nations when it comes to dealing with fires.”
Masnelliyarti said Indonesia had asked its neighboring countries to provide water-bombing facilities, not fire-fighters, to help with the blazes.
“Sending fire-fighters would not be effective. We tried that in 2006. The forests here are very vast and it would be difficult for fire fighters from neighboring countries to deal with that,” she said, citing in particular the city-state of Singapore, which has no large forest area.
Under the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP), countries in the region affected by fires may request for assistance from its neighbors if it needs help combating fires.
“The involvement of foreign parties in domestic affairs has always been a sensitive issue,” the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for ASEAN, Djauhari Oratmangun, said on the sidelines of the bloc’s senior officials meeting in Jakarta. The issue was not discussed at that meeting.
Despite being enacted in 2003, Indonesia and the Philippines have not yet ratified the ASEAN haze treaty, Djauhari said. The government will discuss the treaty with the newly-elected lawmakers at the House of Representatives, who have demanded the government review the treaty. Criticisms have been directed at the government for not strengthening regional administrations in fire-prone areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
The Malaysian government said last week it was ready to help Indonesia tackle its forest fires if Jakarta would allow it. Malaysia has been overwhelmed by thick haze drifting across from more than 5,000 fires raging across Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and West Kalimantan in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Housing and Local Government Minister, Kong Cho Ha, said haze from forest fires in Indonesia had been occurring every year between July and September since 1988, due to the direction of winds.