Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologized Monday to Singapore and Malaysia for record-setting pollution caused by forest fires in his country.
“For what is happening, as the president, I apologize to our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia,” Yudhoyono said. He asked for their understanding and said Indonesia is working hard to fight the fires, which are often set by farmers to clear fields.
Jakarta dispatched planes and helicopters last week to battle the blazes in peat swamp forests as well as plantations in Riau province on Sumatra island, where the smoke easily drifts across the sea to the two neighboring countries.
Speaking at a news conference after a Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue, Yudhoyono said he has ordered an investigation of the fires.
“There should be a thorough investigation. In my analysis, there are both natural and human factors,” he said, adding that the wind direction has caused the smoke to concentrate in Singapore and Malaysia.
Malaysia declared a state of emergency on Sunday in a district where the haze triggered one of the country’s worst pollution levels, while Singapore has urged people to remain indoors due to “hazardous” levels of pollution.
In Indonesia, media reports said two commercial flights to Pekanbaru, Riau’s provincial capital, were diverted Monday to Kuala Lumpur and North Sumatra’s capital, Medan, while another had to fly back to Singapore.
In Dumai in Riau, dozens of houses were burned down by forest fires, and a leopard with leg injuries fled from a forest into a village. Conservationists assisted by villagers took seven hours to capture the animal, which refused to return to the forest. It was being cared for at the state conservation office.
Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency said aircraft and firefighters were able to extinguish at least 69 of the 265 fires burning across Riau on Monday.
Last week, Indonesian Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono slammed critical comments by Singaporean officials about the haze, saying they should have been conveyed through diplomatic channels instead of publicly.
“Singapore should not act like children, making all that noise,” he said.
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