PETALING JAYA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called for a crackdown on those responsible for forest fires in the republic.
He held a Cabinet meeting in Pekanbaru, Riau province, Sumatra, which is one of the worst haze-affected areas, to review measures to combat the fires.
“Strict action by way of penalty is needed for those who burn forests, whether they are corporations or individuals, ” he posted on Facebook yesterday following Monday night’s meeting.
He directed Indonesia’s national disaster mitigation agency to expand the area for artificial rain and to deploy more personnel to battle the haze.
“The incidents of forest fires in Riau and its surrounding areas should not happen if the hotspots that emerged were extinguished early on, before it spread to become hundreds of other hotspots.
“The government agencies from the federal level right up to district level, and other security agencies, are actually capable of taking preventive measures (for the fires), ” he said.
Indonesia has come under scrutiny for the haze caused by illegal slash-and-burn agricultural practices in the country.
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin and her Indonesian counterpart Siti Nurbaya have had different versions over the haze.
Siti Nurbaya claimed that the haze in Malaysia was caused by forest fires in Malaysia itself while Yeo said the data indicated otherwise.
Indonesia has defended its action against 30 firms, including four Malaysian companies, for causing some of the forest fires within its borders.
Its Foreign Affairs Ministry’s South-East Asian Affairs director Denny Abdi said his government would not differentiate such companies and their country of origin.
“Whoever that breaks the law by deliberately starting the fire just to clear the land will face stern action from Indonesia.
“It does not matter if they are Malaysian-owned or Indonesian companies, ” he said after attending a business meeting and networking session organised by the Indonesian Consulate General in Johor Baru yesterday.
He stressed that the fires were deliberately started, as it was the cheapest way to clear the land.
Denny also said that both Indonesia and Malaysia were always in contact with one another as the impact of the haze affected both sides.
“Our government has deployed almost 30,000 people on the ground and 50 helicopters conducting water bombing to contain the situation.
“Putting out the fire is not easy as the affected area is big and the fire itself is located underground.”
Indonesia has reportedly sealed off plantations operated by at least 30 companies, including the four Malaysian-owned firms.
In Kuala Lumpur, Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the relationship between both countries remained strong despite the haze problem.
“This is not the first time that we have encountered this issue. I’m sure we will be able to negotiate and resolve this issue amicably.
“The diplomatic ties between Malaysia and Indonesia remain strong, ” he said yesterday.