Indonesian leader says sorry for haze
Yudhoyono resolves to tackle fires that have strained relations with neighbours
PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has apologised for the haze blanketing Singapore and Malaysia, and stressed that Indonesia will bear responsibility for resolving a problem that has frayed relations with its two neighbours.
In a televised press conference at his office yesterday evening, Dr Yudhoyono said: "For what has happened, as President, I say sorry, and seek the understanding of our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia.
"Indonesia had no intention to cause this. And we will continue to bear responsibility to overcome what has happened."
His comments come a week after land-clearing fires in forests and plantations in Riau, exacerbated by strong winds, saw the haze over Singapore and peninsular Malaysia reach record highs.
But calls for Indonesia to act also drew strong comments from several Indonesian ministers in recent days. Yesterday, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik told an Asean meeting in Bali that Singapore and Malaysia should "know themselves" and be good neighbours.
Other officials had also said companies linked to Malaysia and Singapore could have been behind the illegal burning.
Dr Yudhoyono said: "There are statements from several officeholders that I feel need not be put across that way. Sometimes, the facts have not been checked, and that becomes an issue. This has become a concern from Singapore and also Malaysia."
He said he had instructed officials that there was no need for such statements, or to single out countries for blame.
"To say the negligent company is Indonesian, or owned by foreigners from Malaysia or Singapore, that is not needed. What is needed is to focus all efforts on overcoming the haze and burning," he said.
He pledged to step up efforts to deal with forest fires. Indonesia has launched several cloud-seeding and water-bombing missions in the past few days, though their effectiveness had been checked by the drier weather this year.
He also urged other provinces on Sumatra and Kalimantan that are prone to forest fires in recent years to take measures to prevent a repeat of the current disaster.
Enforcement action will continue, he said, adding: "Whether it is an Indonesian company or foreign company, the law will be applied firmly and fairly."
Indonesian police yesterday made their first detentions related to the forest fires causing the haze, arresting two farmers who were clearing their land by burning. But the police said the duo were not linked to the 14 companies that officials had said were being investigated for the fires, eight of which have been named.
In Malaysia, where the haze has reached Kuala Lumpur, all schools in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor will reopen today after they were ordered closed yesterday.
In Singapore, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads an inter- ministerial committee to tackle the haze, promised that all ministries would share action plans this week in case the haze returns.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed a diplomatic note to Indonesia's ambassador in Singapore that raises questions and concerns about the alleged involvement of Singapore-linked companies in the Sumatra fires.
The air quality today is expected to remain "moderate". But a slight haze is expected in the next few days due to the wind conditions, the National Environment Agency said.
INDONESIA WILL BEAR RESPONSIBILITY
For what has happened, as President, I say sorry, and seek the understanding of our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesia had no intention to cause this. And we will continue to bear responsibility to overcome what has happened.
- President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in a televised press conference at his office yesterday