World

Joko threatens to sack officials over fires

He also promises funding for high-tech equipment to help fight flames

JAKARTA : Indonesian President Joko Widodo threatened yesterday to sack military and police officers fighting forest fires if they fail to extinguish the flames.

He also promised government funds for high-tech equipment like drones to help tackle the blazes.

More than 9,000 personnel from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, the military, police, environmental groups and private companies, including Asia Pulp & Paper Co have been deployed to combat the fires so far this season, Bloomberg reported.

The country has recorded the highest number of hot spots this year since devastating fires in 2015 and faces global pressure to put an end to slash-and-burn clearance of land, often to plant palm and pulp plantations.

So far, 975 hot spots have been detected, with 135,000ha of land burnt across 18 provinces, said Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Wiranto.

An emergency has been declared in six provinces on the island of Sumatra and in the province of Kalimantan on Borneo.

"I phoned the military commander and the chief of police to tell them to replace those who can't resolve forest and land fires," Mr Joko told a co-ordinating meeting on tackling forest fires at the presidential palace.

"Never underestimate hot spots. Immediately put out a small fire, don't wait until it gets bigger," he said.

Mr Joko said hot spots should be detected using modern equipment like drones.

"If (the regional government budget) can't afford it, I'll buy it for you," said Mr Joko.

Indonesian farmers use fire to clear land during the dry season but they can rage out of control and produce a choking haze that spreads to Singapore and Malaysia.

The President, who will make an official visit to Malaysia and Singapore this week, noted complaints about haze were once again making headlines in neighbouring countries.

Singapore's National Environment Agency said on Sunday the Republic could experience slightly hazy conditions in the next few days as it released its first daily haze advisory for the year.

Malaysian authorities last week issued advisories warning the public to avoid open burning and outdoor activities.

On Monday, Malaysia's Environment Ministry said in a statement that it would call on Asean to take measures to prevent transboundary haze when the countries meet in Brunei this week.

Indonesian authorities have pledged to use aircraft for water bombing and cloud seeding to fight the fires.

Drought has hit large parts of the archipelago as a mild El Nino weather pattern disrupts the dry season, weather officials say, with its peak now expected to run from mid-August to mid-September.

This month, Indonesia's Supreme Court upheld a judgement against Mr Joko, Cabinet ministers and provincial governors, attributing blame over their handling of the 2015 fires. - REUTERS

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