Indonesia accepts international help on fires

  • 08/10/2015

Indonesia has agreed to accept international help to combat forest fires that are cloaking Southeast Asia in haze after weeks of failed attempts to douse the blazes.

Fires illegally started to clear land for plantations in Indonesia have shrouded Singapore and Malaysia in acrid smog, worsening air quality, closing schools and forcing the cancellation of outdoor events.

The blazes are an annual occurrence during the dry season, but scientists have warned this year's are on track to be the worst ever due to an El Nino weather system that has created tinder-dry conditions in Indonesia.

Jakarta has deployed about 25,000 personnel and aircraft to combat the blazes on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo, but the firefighters have seemed overwhelmed by the extent of the fires.

Tensions have been rising between Jakarta and its neighbours as the haze spreads, with Singapore's biggest supermarket chain on Wednesday (local time) withdrawing paper products made by an Indonesia-owned company accused over the haze.

Authorities had rejected offers of help from affluent Singapore, but officials said Indonesian President Joko Widodo had announced that international assistance would now be accepted at a cabinet meeting a day earlier.

"It was agreed that we will co-operate with a number of our partners in our efforts to suppress the forest fires," foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told AFP.

"We are working with a number of countries including Singapore."

Other countries who may help Indonesia in tackling the fires include Australia, Malaysia, Russia and China, he said, adding that the specifics had not yet been agreed.

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post late on Wednesday his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi had "indicated that Indonesia will now take up our offer".