President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has offered a formal apology to Singapore and Malaysia for the haze that has been blanketing both countries as a result of forest fires in Riau.
The president blamed the forest fires on both humans and nature, saying the winds in Sumatra that were headed towards Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines had contributed to the thick haze.
“For this incident, I as the president would like to apologize especially to Singapore and Malaysia and hope they would understand. Indonesia did not want this to happen and we are trying to overcome this responsibly,” said Yudhoyono in a press conference at the State Palace on Monday.
Yudhoyono also criticized the Riau administration for its slow response to anticipating the haze from the beginning and called on provinces prone to forest fires to focus on containing fires in their respective areas.
“To be honest, I think Riau was quite slow in anticipating this from the beginning. But there’s no need to play the blame game. Let’s just [work] to overcome the haze and fires immediately,” he said.
Earlier, the president took to Twitter to say he would take strict action against companies involved in burning forests to clear land for new plantation areas.
“Indonesia will seriously overcome the forest fires in Riau and will take stern action against foreign companies that were involved,” the president tweeted on Monday.
Yudhoyono said the government was still working hard to contain the fire, adding the forest fires in Riau not only caused haze at home but also in neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia.
Both neighboring countries have lodged protests and offered help to contain the forest fires. Yudhoyono said efforts to contain fires from the land turned out to be ineffective and that’s why the government had deployed helicopters.
“The government is deploying two Bolco helicopters and one Colibri helicopter to contain hotspots in Riau. The efforts through land have been ineffective,” he said.
Minister of Environment Balthasar Kambuanya previously said there were indications that eight Malaysian-owned companies were involved in setting off fires to open new plantation areas in Riau.
The eight companies implicated are Langgam Inti Hiberida, Bumi Rakksa Sejati, Tunggal Mitra Plantation, Udaya Loh Dinawi, Adei Plantation, Jatim Jaya Perkasa, Multi Gambut Industri, and Mustika Agro Lestari.
The Forestry Ministry and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) as well as other related ministries had sent teams to the fields to ensure efforts to contain the fires were successful and to take legal measures against people or companies that violated regulations to start a fire to clear lands. Meanwhile, Sime Darby Plantation denied that its subsidiaries in Indonesia were involved in the fire.
“There have been no area-expansion activities in the operational areas of Tunggal Mitra Plantation, and Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati in Riau since April 2013. This needs to be emphasized given the planting process of oil palm trees can only be done every 20 to 25 years, not every year,” said Inasanti Susanto, head of Minamas Plantation Corporate Communications in a press release on Monday.
Inasanti said Sime Darby Plantation strictly adopts a zero burning policy in its operational areas and the policy has been implemented since 1985. However, Inasanti admitted a small portion of its plantation areas were inhabited by local residents to comply with Indonesian laws that require companies to protect local residents who lived around the operational areas.
Riau Police said it has arrested two people suspected of setting of fire in Riau, including a former Bank Rakyat Indonesia official identified as HP. “One of them , S (64), a resident at Rupat Utara, Bengkalis, is being processed by the Bengkalis Police and the other one is HP (56), a Rokan Ilir resident.
‘‘They cleared the land by starting fires,” said National Police spokesman Sr Comr Agus Rianto at the National Police headquarters in Jakarta on Monday. Agus said that both men were farmers and were not related to any companies. (Jakarta Globe)