In response to the wide-spread anger in neighbouring countries on the haze situation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has apologised for the prolonged haze pollution problem.
Speaking to reporters on October 10, Dr Yudhoyono said: 'On behalf of the Indonesian government, I have to apologise to the neighbouring countries for this incident, even though clearly this is not an intentional (act) by Indonesia.’ 'Clearly, this is not a problem we intend to inflict on our neighbours, and we are continuously trying to tackle it and prevent it in future' he added.
President SBY’s apology came at the time when he is also facing increasing criticisms from his own people. The Indonesian media had lambasted the government for inadequate handling of the haze problems. 'What's wrong with us? Who do we think we are, as a nation and a government, to cause such suffering to our neighbours and our own people?' The Jakarta Post asked in an editorial published on October 10. The media has also called on the government to come up with strong deterrents and punish all those found to be responsible for the fires.
Indonesian Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban, on the other hand, had made the remark that Singaporeans and Malaysians should be fair as they ought to reflect on how they have never thanked their neighbour for the oxygen produced by its forests. Nevertheless, Indonesia presently maintains an open stance towards its neighbouring countries’ call for dialogue. ‘We are trying to understand and positively respond to the attention from some ASEAN member countries, as we wish to forge effective cooperation in dealing with the forest fires which have sent haze to the skies over Malaysia and Singapore,’ Foreign Minister Hasan Wirajuda said here on October 11.
Earlier, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote a letter to Dr Yudhoyono on October 7, expressing his disappointment over the recurring haze problem. In the letter, PM Lee said that Indonesia had to deal with the problem in a timely and effective manner to protect investor confidence in the archipelago, its international standing and Asean's credibility. He also noted that 'while it may be too late this year to prevent the fires that cause the haze, it is critical to take action now in order to prevent future forest fires'. Two days later, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had sent a Third Person Note to the Charge d'Affaires of the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore. Following that, a proposal for five ASEAN member countries to get together to discuss and handle the haze was presented by Singaporean Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim to his Indonesian counterpart Rahmat Witoelar.
Environment ministers from Asean countries affected by the haze - Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore - are scheduled to meet on October 13 in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, in Sumatra. This meeting will be preceded by another meeting of senior environment officials from the four countries in Pekanbaru as well. The purpose of the meeting, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, was to see how Singapore and other affected countries can helpIndonesia prevent the haze problem from recurring and take immediate action to mitigate the fires currently causing the haze.
In Malaysia, protests were staged outside the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The Umno Youth presented a note to the embassy calling on Indonesia to implement measures under the Hanoi Action Plan 1998 and the 2002 Asean Transboundary Agreement. The Malaysian Bar Council has also urged the government to file a case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) demanding compensation from Indonesia for damage caused by the haze, but this suggestion has received a lukewarm response.
Elsewhere, Malaysia had also warned of security threats to the Malacca Strait, as visibility was down to less than 1.6km, from the usual 19km due to the haze. The warning is a prudent one as two ships collided from the thick haze on Batanghari river, Rantau Panjang village, Muaro regency, Jambi province on October 10.
Malaysia warns ships in Malacca Strait to be on alert (Reuters/AFP/ The Straits Times, 10 October 2006)
Thick haze sparks ships crash; one missing (Antara, 10 October 2006)
Indo haze hits southern Thailand (The Nation, 10 October 2006)
PM Lee writes to Indonesia, expresses disappointment over haze problem (The Straits Times, 11 October 2006)
S’pore invites neighbours to discuss haze problem (The Straits Times, 11 October 2006)
Yudhoyono says sorry to S'pore, Malaysia for haze (The Straits Times, 12 October 2006)
Jakarta under fire from local media (The Straits Times, 12 October 2006)
Be grateful forests provide oxygen: Jakarta minister (The Straits Times, 12 October 2006)
Take Jakarta to court, says KL Bar Council (The Straits Times, 12 October 2006)
Indonesia receives ASEAN offers to overcome haze problem (Antara, 12 October 2006)