Indonesia, Singapore trade barbs over haze

Indonesia, Singapore trade barbs over haze

JAKARTA - Indonesia has defended its handling of forest fires after a Singaporean minister criticised Jakarta's inability to stop the blazes, or the dangerous haze that they cause, reports said.

Indonesian Minister of Forestry and the Environment Siti Nurbaya Bakar late Sunday urged Singapore to be "fair," saying her government was doing all it could to extinguish the forest fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands. 

"We are not staying idle," Siti was quoted as saying by state-owned Antara news agency.   

"Indonesia is working hard ... The president has deployed thousands of soldiers and police [to fight the fires]," she said, adding that air quality in Singapore was measured at unhealthy levels for brief periods, but not constantly.

The fires are an annual hazard for Indonesia's neighbours Malaysia and Singapore at this time of year, often causing authorities to issue health warnings and close airports and schools.

Indonesian officials had shown "a complete disregard for our people, and their own" in their handling of the fires, Singapore Foreign and Law Minister K Shanmugam said in a Facebook post last week.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Sunday urged Singapore to act on its offer to help fight the fires. 

"Singapore can join and see for themselves. Don't just talk," Kalla was quoted as saying by Antara during a visit to New York.  

Haze from forest fires on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island is blamed on the illegal practice of open burning by small farmers and plantation companies.   

Thick smog has blanketed much of the islands for two months, prompting authorities to close schools and stop some flights. 

The haze has also travelled to Malaysia, forcing authorities to close schools there.

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