Singapore pledges to pursue companies behind smog

SINGAPORE - Singapore said Saturday that it would pursue local firms found to be involved in starting forest fires in Indonesia, as Greenpeace said the blazes were on palm oil plantations owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies.

Smog has engulfed the city-state with fluctuating levels rising to a record high yesterday, although they had dropped to "moderate" by Saturday afternoon.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told a press conference Saturday that Singapore would investigate possible legal action against domestic companies responsible for the fires.

"I have asked the attorney-general to consider what is it that we can do in Singapore if such companies can be proved to have contributed in some way (to the fires)...We will do everything we can do," he told a press conference.

"We will offer no succour or refuge if the actions of the companies have indeed been illegal in Indonesia and impacted on Singapore," Shanmugam said.

Environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement on Saturday: "NASA hotspot data in (Indonesia's) Sumatra over the past 10 days (11-21 June) has revealed hundreds of fire hotspots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies."

Shanmugam told the press conference that he would raise the regional smog problem at next week's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting.

He added that the city-state would pursue the matter at other forums if the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Brunei next week produced no "concrete results".

On Friday, Indonesia's environment minister said it was investigating eight firms for causing the fires but did not name them.

A senior presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said Friday that the fires happened in concession areas belonging to two paper producers.

Singapore's smog index reached an all-time record level of 401 on Friday.

It hovered over the "hazardous" 300 level on Saturday before dropping to a "moderate" level of 85 in the afternoon.

Government guidelines advise the public to "avoid all unnecessary outdoor activity" at levels above 300.

Residents rejoiced late Saturday after seeing clear blue skies for the first time in almost a week. Shoppers were out in force along posh Orchard Road.