Govt says haze from RI, blames traditional farmers

Govt says haze from RI, blames traditional farmers

23 October 2010

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Indonesia —  In an about face, the government says that fires set by Indonesian farmers in Bengkalis, Riau province, are behind the haze new blanketing Singapore and Malaysia.

Most of the fires were set by farmers practicing slash and burn agriculture, Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said Friday at a press conference in Jakarta.

“Singapore tends to make noise quickly if pollution levels even slightly exceed tolerable standards, even though this is still common in Indonesia,” Gusti said.

Singaporean Environment and Water Resources Minister Yacoob Ibrahim asked Indonesia to intensify actions to tackle the fires, Gusti said.

The Malaysian government also sent a complaint by facsimile, demanding that Indonesia take action to stop the fires, Gusti added.

Singapore and Malaysia both offered Indonesia assistance.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa spoke with Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo over the telephone Friday morning.

Marty said that haze was not only a problem that affected Singapore, but affected other countries as well, including Indonesia.

“Haze is not a problem that can be solved by one country alone,” Marty told reporters during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry.

It was important for all countries in the region to overcome the transboundary problem together, he said, welcoming Singapore’s offer of assistance.

Gusti said that the Environment Ministry had recorded 61 hot spots in Bengkalis on Oct. 20 but only six hot spots on Friday.

On Thursday, the Forestry Ministry rejected claims by Singapore and Malaysia that the haze came from Indonesia.

Forestry Ministry spokesman Masyud said that there should be an assessment on the source of haze since fires had also been detected in other countries, including Malaysia, on the same day.

On Oct. 19, the Forestry Ministry recorded 37 hot spots in Riau province; 19 in Myanmar; 13 in Serawak, Malaysia; and 10 in the Philippines.

Masyud said that the wind direction should be determined when trying to identify the source of haze afflicting Singapore and Malaysia.

Environmental Ministry deputy minister for environmental damage control Arief Yuwono said that a team from Jakarta would leave for Bengkalis to verify the source of the fires.

“We want to ensure whether fires occurred inside or outside forests and to ascertain if [the fires] were due to local farmers or plantations operating in the area,” he told reporters after the press conference.

Gusti said his office would take legal action if the 2009 Environment Law had been violated.

The ministry, which is the country’s lead agency for forest fires, targeted a 20 percent reduction in fire hot spots this year as part of a climate change mitigation program.

Gusti said that the ministry had reduced the occurrence of hot spots by 80 percent this year when compared to 2009.

“With the fires in Riau, the reduction of fire hot spots will still be at least 50 percent this year,” he said.

The government previously named 10 fire-prone provinces, including Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, North Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

At the last meeting of ASEAN environment ministers to discuss regional fires — which was held in Kuching, Malaysia, in July — Gusti said that he received a warm welcome from other officials due to the decline in hot spots.

Indonesia is the only ASEAN member state not to endorse an ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution aimed reducing forest fires and combating haze pollution.

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