MANILA - Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla on Wednesday (Nov 18) blamed the wind for spreading the haze to neighbouring countries, saying it was something beyond Indonesia's control.
Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO summit, Mr Kalla said: "I'm so sorry to Malaysia and Singapore to say that we cannot control the wind. We don't want the haze to go everywhere. (It happened) not because we want it to (affect) our neighbours, but because of the wind."
Mr Kalla was asked during a question-and-answer session what challenges the Indonesian government faces in stamping out the yearly haze brought on by farmers slashing and burning farmland in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
This year, the plumes of smoke and dust spread as far as the Philippines, shrouding large parts of South-east Asia for a few months and causing health problems, school closures and flight cancellations.
Mr Kalla acknowledged that it was a "big problem" that had affected the region.
To tackle it, his government had worked to restore the forests in Indonesia that had disappeared rapidly due to logging, he said.
He pointed out that Indonesia had about 150 million hectares of forests in the 1950s. But one third of it had been destroyed by the 1970s due to "many foreign companies teaching our people how to log for timber".
This had caused the land to become drier and helped the fires spread, he said, adding that the unusually long dry spell caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon also made things worse this year.
While he thanked countries that sent planes to help put out the fires, he called on more "international cooperation" to solve the problem, saying Indonesia would not be able to do it alone.
Several countries including Singapore and Russia had sent aircraft to help douse the fires this year.
Mr Kalla said the problem would likely persist next year, but was hopeful that it would not be as serious.
He also reiterated his previous remarks about the "10 months" of good weather enjoyed by Indonesia's neighbours, quipping: "Ten months every year, the good weather goes to our neighbours. You enjoyed it, we did not ask you to pay for it. But if there's some bad problem, it is our problem to the region too."