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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                                 15  September 2011

Indonesia declines Singapore help

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Though heavy haze continues to blanket parts of western Indonesia, the government said on Wednesday that things were under control and it did not need help from other countries.

Singapore, which falls victim to Indonesia’s annual haze problem, has offered to help put out forest fires. However, the deputy minister for environmental damage control and climate change, Arif Yuwono, said the government was capable of resolving the matter on its own.

Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishan told Channel NewsAsia that her country had offered to send aircraft to help Indonesia extinguish forest fires, which threaten to cast a pall over the city-state’s glitzy Formula 1 night race next week.

“We have a team on standby to help with putting out fires or even with cloud seeding, as well as technical assistance. It depends on whether the Indonesians request or require our assistance,” Balakrishan said.

Arif said his ministry had yet to receive any formal offers, but no help needed.

“We don’t need any help [from foreign countries] because we already have our own standard procedures for handling disasters. The forest fires are now being handled by the BNPB [National Disaster Mitigation Agency] through rain-making operations,” he said.

“We also hope that the fires will decrease once the rainy season begins.”

Arif added that accepting help from foreign countries was complicated because the president needed to declare a natural disaster emergency and approve any aid from other countries.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the BNPB, also said there was no threat.

“Indonesia still has many resources, so any foreign help will be accepted only if we cannot control the situation ,” he said.

The government this week began rain-making operations focused on South Sumatra because the province will host the South East Asia Games in November and because it has 971 designated hotspots.

“We have decided to focus on putting out fires in the areas near the Games. We are creating buffer zones around the venues,” Arif said.

He added that three CASA 212-200 aircraft were being used to implement the month-long rainmaking initiative, which started on Monday.

Sutopo also claimed that the impact of the smoke was still localized and it had not reached other countries like fires in 1998 did. However, Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that the country’s Environment Minister Douglas Uggah Embas last week sent a letter to his Indonesian counterpart about hundreds of suspected fires on Sumatra.

The letter was sent as air quality on Friday dropped to a level deemed “unhealthy” in one area of Negeri Sembilan state, south of Kuala Lumpur.


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