Indonesia hits back at Malaysia over forest fires

A tourist takes a picture from Kuala Lumpur Tower as the city stands shrouded with haze on Friday, September 13, 2019. (AP)
Updated 13 September 2019

Indonesia hits back at Malaysia over forest fires

  • Malaysia closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak this week, after the smoke built up to unhealthy levels
  • Air quality in Indonesian towns closest to the fires have risen to hazardous levels

JAKARTA: Indonesia on Friday rejected Malaysian complaints about hazardous smoke drifting from its forest fires across the border, saying blazes were also raging in parts of Malaysia and on Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia.
In an escalating row over the smoke haze, a Malaysian minister said on Thursday that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad would write to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo to raise concerns about cross-border haze.
Malaysia closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak this week, after the smoke built up to unhealthy levels.
Air quality in Indonesian towns closest to the fires have risen to hazardous levels and on Wednesday thousands held mass Islamic prayer for rain.
Forest fires have become an almost annual occurrence in Indonesia, especially in dry years, and Indonesia’s neighbors have complained of the thick, choking haze wafting in, raising concern about health and the impact on tourism.
Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar on Friday said she felt Malaysia had not painted an objective picture of the flames, which have ripped through parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands for more than a month.
Bakar said while smog from fires in Indonesia may have crossed over to Malaysia, fires detected last week in the Malaysian state of Sarawak in Borneo and peninsular Malaysia also contributed to worsening air quality there.
“I only asked that they (Malaysians) be objective and sequential in their data analysis,” she told Reuters on Friday, responding to Kuala Lumpur’s remarks that it was using recent data from ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Center.
Malaysia’s Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin in a post on her Facebook page on Thursday evening said Indonesia “should not be in denial” and data should speak for itself.
Yeo said the ASEAN data put the number of hotspots in the Indonesian provinces on Borneo and on Sumatra island at 474 and 387, respectively, versus 7 in Malaysia. She also claimed that wind direction meant the haze could not be from Sarawak.
Bakar said she was not seeking to look for excuses but did not “have time for polemics” and would rather work on putting out fires that she said covered a “huge” area.
Jakarta had deployed 46 helicopters for water bombing and cloud seeding, Bakar said.
Indonesia has sent thousands of security personnel to try to douse the flames. The government has also sealed off plantations operated by at least 30 companies, where fires had been spotted, and brought criminal charges against four.
At least four palm oil companies whose land had been sealed off were subsidiaries of Malaysian groups, Bakar said.
She named them as West Kalimantan-based Sime Indo Agro — a unit of Sime Darby Plantation, Sukses Karya Sawit — a unit of IOI Corporation, Rafi Kamajaya Abadi — a unit of TDM Berhad and Riau-based Adei Plantation and Industry — a unit of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Group.
A spokeswoman for Sime Darby’s Indonesian operation Minamas Plantation said the company was not aware its plantation had been sealed off and was monitoring for hotspots. Sime Darby and IOI both said they were checking their Indonesian operations.
Sukses Karya Sawit, Rafi Kamajaya Abadi and Adei Plantation and Industry could not immediately be contacted. The parent companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Greece moves more migrants to mainland as arrivals increase

Updated 29 min 10 sec ago

Greece moves more migrants to mainland as arrivals increase

  • Some 697 migrants and refugees arrived in the port of Elefsina near Athens from the island of Samos
  • Greece is struggling with the biggest resurgence in refugee and migrant flows across the Aegean Sea from Turkey since 2015

ATHENS: Authorities in Greece moved more asylum-seekers to the mainland on Tuesday as part of a strategy to reduce the refugee population on outlying islands after an increase in arrivals in recent months.

Some 697 migrants and refugees arrived in the port of Elefsina near Athens from the island of Samos, officials said. Earlier, 120 people arrived from Lesbos.

Greece is struggling with the biggest resurgence in refugee and migrant flows across the Aegean Sea from Turkey since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe, many of them via Greece.

The islands, which are closest to Turkey, have been struggling under the influx, with some 33,700 refugees and migrants in overcrowded camps, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

In late September, a woman died in a fire in a tent in a camp on Lesbos, while another fire in a severely overcrowded camp in Samos forced hundreds of people into the streets this month.

“Our focus was mainly on Samos because we want things there to calm down,” migration ministry secretary Manos Logothetis told Reuters.

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September, the highest level in the three-and-a-half years since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to seal the Aegean corridor to Europe.

Logothetis said up to 300 more people would be leaving Samos this week, and up to 2,000 from all outlying islands next week. Greece aims to move up to 20,000 off the islands by the end of the year, he said.

Athens has announced a stricter migration policy to deal with the crisis, including plans to deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of next year.