Singapore, Jakarta hold high-level haze talks

The haze crisis was a key subject of discussion at a high-level meeting between Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Indonesian counterparts, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.

The meeting in Jakarta yesterday evening took place as Indonesia ramps up efforts to tackle the smouldering haze that has enveloped parts of the region in recent weeks.

Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar is said to be consulting peatland experts on how to better douse illegal forest fires raging in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Academics from the country's major universities, researchers, green activists and former environment ministers have been meeting Ms Siti to give their input since Sunday.

"We are gathering input on how to manage peatland, better deal with the fires, as well as what regulations and policies should be created going forward," ministry spokesman Eka Soegiri told The Straits Times by telephone.

This comes as Mr Luhut revealed that he is in talks to hire a Russian-made amphibious tanker aircraft for fighting fires.

He met Russia's ambassador in Jakarta recently regarding the possible deployment of a Beriev Be-200 aircraft to Sumatra and Kalimantan, where the fires are raging.

Indonesia currently uses 19 choppers and two Air Tractor planes for water bombing and four aircraft for cloud-seeding operations.

The fires this year are much more severe than those in 2013, Mr Luhut said, adding: "That year, we had heavy rain in October. This time round, we are not even sure whether we will have such wet weather in November."

Mr Luhut said he phoned Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to say that Indonesia is fighting the fires round the clock.

Singapore's Ministry of Defence said Dr Ng and Mr Ryamizard yesterday discussed ways to enhance bilateral defence co-operation, as well as the haze situation in Indonesia.

"Dr Ng reiterated that the Singapore Armed Forces stands ready to support Indonesia's haze mitigation efforts, if and when activated," said the ministry last night.

In his daily update yesterday, Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia's disaster management agency BNPB, said the dry weather, limited supply of water and equipment, as well as the vast areas that have caught fire remain the main challenges for emergency personnel fighting the blazes.

"Land and forest fires are expected to continue until the end of November if preventive measures are not taken," he added.

This article was first published on Sept 29, 2015.
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