Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Singapore slams Jakarta over haze as schools shut

‘UNGRATEFUL’:Indonesia’s vice president joked that ‘for 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us,’ angering the city-state

AFP, SINGAPORE

A man smokes a cigarette next to the haze-shrouded skyline in Singapore yesterday.

WARNING: SMOKING CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH.

Photo: Reuters

Singapore slammed “shocking” statements from Indonesian officials over the haze crisis as it closed all schools and distributed protective face masks yesterday in emergency measures after the air pollution index soared to hazardous levels.

The city-state has been cloaked in smog blown in from the tinder-dry island of Sumatra for about three weeks, the worst such episode since mid-2013 in a crisis that grips the region nearly every year during the burning-off season.

The closure of primary and secondary schools, as well as government-run kindergartens, due to the haze problem is unprecedented, the Straits Times daily said as the air quality index shot up above 300, a level considered “hazardous.”

As the pollution index rose, so did tempers, with Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam speaking out against some Indonesian figures who made light of the problem, which has long strained relations among affected countries, including Malaysia.

While Jakarta says it is taking steps to deal with the problem, “at the same time, we are hearing some shocking statements made, at senior levels, from Indonesia, with a complete disregard for our people, and their own,” the minister said in a Facebook post late on Thursday.

“How is it possible for senior people in government to issue such statements, without any regard for their people, or ours, and without any embarrassment, or sense of responsibility?” he said.

Shanmugan did not identify the officials, but Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla has made waves in recent weeks by repeating comments he made in March that Indonesia’s neighbors should be grateful for good air quality most of the year.

“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us,” he said at the time.

Indonesian presidential spokesman Ari Dwipayana declined to comment on Shanmugam’s remarks, but said Indonesia’s neighbors should also take note of Jakarta’s efforts to contain the fires.

“The president has stated that all force has been mobilized, we are going all out to put out the fires by water-bombing and weather modification,” he said.

“The president has also directly visited the impacted area, and this shows how serious we are in handling the forest fires and haze,” he said, referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s trip to smog-choked areas on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) said that offices would remain open yesterday, but that face masks would be distributed at community centers across the city-state for needy and elderly citizens.

The haze conditions improved somewhat throughout the day, below the level considered hazardous and into the high end of the “very unhealthy” range.

Lee said that Singapore has offered Indonesia help in putting out the fires “and asked them to share with us the identity of companies responsible for causing the haze.”

Indonesia has previously said that Singapore-based companies were among those responsible for the blazes, caused by smallholders and agricultural companies using burning as a method to clear land for plantations during summer.

Under pressure from its neighbors to stop the annual haze, Widodo has pledged to crack down on companies and individuals behind the burnings.

About 3,000 troops and police have been sent to Sumatra to fight the fires, with Indonesian authorities saying last week it would take a month to bring them under control.

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