Indonesia sought help Thursday from Singapore, Russia, Malaysia and Japan to fight growing forest fires that have sent choking smoke blowing across the region for weeks, causing health concerns. The country had so far repeatedly declined international offers to help tackle the crisis.
Indonesia has come under growing pressure in the past few weeks to contain the haze crisis, which has pushed up pollution to dangerous levels across parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand, disrupting flights and shutting schools. The fires are reportedly caused by firms engaging in illegal slash-and-burn practices to clear land for palm oil and pulp wood plantations.
"We have asked for help and we have received help from Singapore," Indonesian President Joko Widodo said, in a statement released on the cabinet secretary's website, Reuters reported, adding that he is also seeking help from Russia, Malaysia and Japan. "We hope this will speed up the process because fires on peat land is different from regular forest fires.”
Widodo reportedly said that he had asked for at least three aircraft from Singapore and Russia, as they now need “planes that can carry 12-15 tonnes of water, not like the 2-3 tonnes” that they have now.
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said, in a Facebook post late Wednesday, that his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi had "indicated that Indonesia will now take up our offer.”
“MFA sent our latest formal request for the names of the companies suspected of being involved in the #haze to the Indonesian Embassy yesterday so that appropriate action can be taken,” Balakrishnan wrote. “We also reiterated our haze assistance package, which includes assets, personnel, high-resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates.”
Singapore has reportedly offered to provide Indonesia with aircraft to artificially induce rain and carry out water-bombing.
"The kind of assistance needed will be related to measures to put out the fires, like water-bombing and creating artificial rain, as the areas affected this time are far larger than in previous years," Indonesian presidential spokesman Ari Dwipayana told Agence France-Presse.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Thursday that the country is deploying aircraft assets to help Indonesia put out fires in Palembang and South Sumatra, according to a local report.
"I have contacted my counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu and Indonesia's foreign minister Retno Marsudi," Hishammuddin reportedly said. “The Malaysian government will deploy an amphibious plane Bombardier CL415MP for the mission.”
The operation will reportedly be coordinated between the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).