S'pore seeks Jakarta's help to identify firms behind haze

SINGAPORE - Singapore's worst air pollution in 16 years led to diplomatic tension yesterday, as the country urged Indonesia to provide concession maps to enable it to act against plantation firms that allow slash-and-burn farming.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, made the request to his Indonesian counterpart by telephone as air pollution on the island hit unhealthy levels for a second straight day, with some of the worst readings since the 1997 regional haze crisis.

"We need to exert commercial pressure against companies causing the haze," Dr Balakrishnan said on his Facebook page, without saying what measures Singapore might take.

"We are also waiting for Indonesia to publish the concession maps. The combination of satellite photos, which are updated daily, and these concession maps would enable us to pinpoint the errant companies," he added.

Indonesian Forest Ministry official Hadi Daryanto had attempted to shift some of the blame to Singapore and Malaysia, saying that their palm-oil firms which had invested in Indonesia were also responsible.

"We hope the governments of Malaysia and Singapore will tell their investors to adopt proper measures so we can solve this problem together."

Indonesia's Environment Minister could not be reached for comment, but senior official Sony Partono told Reuters: "The most important thing is that we have attempted to control the damage resulting from the forest fires."

Companies with land concessions in Indonesia include Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources and First Resources.

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