Indonesian president Widodo orders permanent solution to forest fires

Schoolchildren make their way to school as haze from forest fires blankets Palembang in Indonesia. The country last year suffered the worst forest blazes in four years when 1.6 million hectares of its forests and peat lands were burned. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 06 February 2020

Indonesian president Widodo orders permanent solution to forest fires

  • Indonesia last year suffered the worst forest blazes in four years when 1.6 million hectares of its forests and peat lands were burned
  • World Bank estimates total damage and economic losses from the fires amounted to $5.2 billion

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Thursday ordered government officials to find a permanent solution to prevent devastating annual forest fires that he understood had been almost entirely started by humans but made worst by climate change.
Indonesia last year suffered the worst forest blazes in four years when 1.6 million hectares of its forests and peat lands were burned. The World Bank estimated total damage and economic losses from the fires amounted to $5.2 billion.
Southeast Asia has suffered for years from smoke caused by the fires, which raised health and environmental concerns and at times diplomatic tensions between neighbors.
“Find a solution, a more permanent one against economic-motivated forest fires because according to reports I have received, 99% of forest fires were started by humans,” Widodo told a meeting with cabinet ministers and heads of agencies in charge of extinguishing fires.
Indonesian farmers often use fire to clear land during the dry season, but they can rage out of control and produce a choking haze. Palm oil cultivation is often blamed for land clearance in places like Sumatra and Borneo islands.
The Indonesian fires have been blamed for increasing greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation that can endanger wildlife such as orangutans.
Anyone caught using fires to illegally clear land for plantations can face up to 15 years in jail and fines, but green groups claim the laws have been poorly enforced.
Widodo also noted Australia’s bushfires which had burnt 11 hectares of forests and lands and are estimated to have killed up to 1 billion native animals.
“Climate change, rising temperatures, we all have felt them. Don’t let (fires) become big during the very hot weather or they will become hard to control,” the president said.
Widodo also ordered more frequent patrols on the ground by security personnel across the country, especially in fire-prone area such as Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, and South Sumatra provinces.
Last year’s blazes were exacerbated by a mild El Nino weather pattern, which prolonged the dry season. Indonesia’s weather agency says it does not expect a repeat of El Nino this year.


Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

Updated 10 July 2020

Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

  • Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018
  • Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s attorney general said Friday that two men had confessed to killing a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group as part of a plot to topple Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.
Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018.
His shooting death last week sparked days of protests and ethnic violence that killed 239 people, according to police figures.
“The assassination was intended to be a cover to take power from the incumbent by force,” attorney general Abebech Abbebe said in a statement Friday aired on state television, without providing details.
Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office, a complaint echoed by many protesters last week.
Abebech said that along with the two men who have allegedly confessed to the crime, the government has identified a third suspect who remains on the run.
One of the men in custody identified the masterminds of the alleged plot as members of a rebel group the government believes is affiliated with the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) political party, Abebech said.
The OLF, a former rebel movement, returned to Ethiopia from exile after Abiy took office and has repeatedly disavowed any links to armed insurgents.
The Internet remained shut off Friday for an 11th consecutive day, though Addis Ababa remains calm and Abiy’s office issued a statement saying the surrounding Oromia region had “returned to calm and citizens have resumed normal activities.”
In her statement, however, Abebech said unnamed agitators were calling for additional protests and road blockages in the coming days.
“There are those that have hidden themselves in nice places but are calling on Ethiopian youth to fight each other, close roads and to cease working as part of a rebellion call,” Abebech said.
“Above all we call on our people to disobey this rebellion call and to thwart it.”