Singapore, Indonesia must work closely to tackle issues like terrorism, haze: Ministers

The Merlion covered by haze in Singapore on Oct 26, 2015.
The Merlion covered by haze in Singapore on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - It is important for Singapore and Indonesia to continue to work closely when confronting issues such as terrorism or the transboundary haze, said the security czars of the two countries following a meeting on Monday (Nov 23).

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, who is in Jakarta on a working visit, was hosted to dinner on Monday by Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

During dinner, both ministers reaffirmed the excellent bilateral relations between Singapore and Indonesia as they discussed a broad range of bilateral and international defence and security issues, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a statement on Tuesday.

On the issue of the transboundary haze, which had hogged the headlines in recent months, Mr Teo and Mr Luhut agreed that it was important to implement preventive measures early so that the forest fires and the resultant haze can be prevented, said the ministry.

This year's haze crisis, caused by forest fires suspected to have been started illegally to clear land for cultivation, lasted for more than three months, affecting millions across South-east Asia. There have been 19 haze-related deaths in Indonesia and over half a million people there have been treated for severe lung infections.

The fires have also razed around 2.1 million ha of forests and peatland, and released large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In October, Singapore sent a fire-fighting assistance team to Indonesia's South Sumatra province to help put out the fires.

The MFA said Mr Teo reiterated Singapore's readiness to assist Indonesia in its efforts to prevent a repeat of this year's crisis, said to be the worst on record.

Mr Luhut expressed appreciation for Singapore's recent assistance to help combat the land and forest fires that resulted in the haze and told Mr Teo that the Indonesian government was committed to putting in place additional measures to prevent a recurrence of the fires and haze from next year onwards, said the MFA.

When discussions moved to the countries' bilateral economic relationship, both ministers noted that Singapore was once again the top investor in Indonesia so far this year. They agreed that Singapore and Indonesia should explore additional ways to broaden and deepen the existing economic ties, said the ministry.

On defence, the two ministers - both of whom have military backgrounds - acknowledged the longstanding ties and close cooperation between the Indonesian National Armed Forces and the Singapore Armed Forces, which had been built upon decades of mutual trust, benefitting both countries. This they hope would strengthen further in the coming years.

Mr Teo also took the opportunity during the meeting to address the matter of the Flight Information Region (FIR) and reiterated that the issue was a technical one based on aviation safety, and not one of sovereignty.

The FIR, which Singapore controls for take-off, landing and over-flights in the region, became a prickly issue after the Indonesian Air Force complained in recent months about Singapore's military activities in the airspace above the Riau Islands.

It said a bilateral defence agreement that allows such activities had expired in 2001 and was never renewed due to objections by Indonesian lawmakers and concerns over national sovereignty.

However, Singapore has been in control of flights in the airspace above some areas in Riau since 1946, and the current set of agreements was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Singapore's main concern is to ensure the safety and security of aircraft passing through the very busy airspace covered by the FIR, said the MFA.

The ministry added that the delegation of FIR management is considered by ICAO based on technical and operational considerations related to aviation safety and efficiency.

Mr Teo will be meeting President Joko Widodo on Tuesday, as he continues his three-day visit in Jakarta.

Correction note: An earlier version of this article said that in October, Singapore sent a fire-fighting assistance team to Indonesia's Jambi province to help put out the fires, when in fact the fire-fighting assistance team was sent to South Sumatra province. We are sorry for the error.