Indonesia working non-stop to fight fires, says minister

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said yesterday that Jakarta "respects the complaints from neighbouring countries" over the haze caused by land and forest fires, but the government is tackling the issue "not because of pressure by other countries".

"All outsiders should withhold unnecessary comments but see the efforts which are systematically and seriously being carried out by the government of Indonesia," she said in a statement.

Ms Siti said patrol teams on the ground and strong law enforcement against perpetrators who have deliberately set fires have helped to keep the number of hot spots across the country low, from 8,247 between January and August last year to 2,356 hot spots over the same period this year.

Thirty companies have been slapped with "administrative sanctions" over last year's fires, including strong warnings and suspension of licences. Civil suits against nearly 10 companies are also ongoing, she said, without naming the companies.

Fires are often started by small-holder farmers as a cheap way to clear land, or illegally by companies to prepare the land to plant crops, such as oil palm. Fires sometimes start within concessions or start outside and spread into concessions lands. Many fires last year were within oil palm and pulpwood concessions, though companies are not always to blame.

Indonesia is "entering a crucial season of land and forest fires" and the government "is not sitting still and is working non-stop" to tackle the blazes, the minister said.

She said firefighters have been able to suppress the spread of fires.

Officials say visibility has dropped in a few districts in Riau Province, with a distance of only 1km in the worst-hit city of Dumai. Meanwhile, satellites detected 44 hot spots in Riau yesterday, compared with Saturday's figure of 30.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Indonesia working non-stop to fight fires, says minister'. Subscribe