Singapore’s one-plane offer to help fight fires ‘insulting’
JAKARTA - Singapore’s offer in September of only “one aircraft” to Indonesia to help fight forest fires that have caused thick haze to descend around the region was “insulting”, said Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
Speaking in an interview last Friday (Oct 16) with the country’s Tempo magazine, Mr Luhut defended Indonesia’s perceived tardiness in putting out the fires and in accepting foreign aid.
“During the dry season, peatlands tend to be very flammable. When we bombard the land with water to put out the flames, they just come out again. So I get a headache when people get upset. What are we supposed to do?” he replied when asked why this year’s forest fires are worse than those of last year’s.
“Then someone asks why we didn’t accept the assistance offered earlier. There are many reasons for that. Firstly, we wanted to try and do it on our own. Secondly, we didn’t realise the process would be so long. Thirdly, (Singapore) offered only one aircraft. It was insulting.”
In September, Singapore offered a C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations, a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial fire-fighting, and up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry the Singapore Civil Defence Force fire-fighting assistance team.
Mr Luhut’s comments in the latest issue of the magazine came after Indonesia finally accepted help from Singapore on Oct 7 after repeatedly declining offers of help for weeks. Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had even flown to Jakarta at the end of September to meet his Indonesian counterpart at one of the meetings. During his visit, Dr Ng also met Mr Luhut.
On October 11, aircraft from Singapore and Malaysia began water-bombing missions to put out the raging fires in South Sumatra.
Singapore sent a Republic of Singapore Armed Forces (RSAF) Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket and 34 SAF personnel to help fight the ongoing forest fires, together with a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force. Two RSAF C-130 aircraft were also deployed to transport SAF and SCDF personnel.
In an interview on Oct 7, Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung told CNN Indonesia that Jakarta had earlier rejected Singapore’s offers of assistance because it was concerned that the city state would claim credit for solving the problem, despite being worried about the rapidly deteriorating situation.
In the Tempo interview, Mr Luhut also pledged to confiscate the land and revoke the licences of big companies that practise illegal burning next year.
“This haze problem is also about injustice. When a company controls 2.8 million hectares of land, where is the justice? Then there are those who own 600,000 hectares of land but own not a single fire extinguisher. Should the government be dousing fires all the time? If we call it a national disaster, they will benefit by it.” AGENCIES