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Indonesia Seeks Help in Battling Forest Fires


A man rows a boat on Siak River as thick haze from wildfires blanket the city in Pekanbaru, Riau province, Indonesia, Oct. 5, 2015.

Indonesia's president says his government has asked several countries for assistance fighting massive forest fires that have cast a haze over much of the region.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, President Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, said the situation requires Jakarta to reach out for help.

“Hopefully we can accelerate the handling of this peat swamp forest fire, which is different from the way you fight the ordinary forest fire. It’s totally different," said President Widodo.

Indonesia says Singapore and Malaysia will send fire fighting aircraft on Friday, while China, Japan and Australia have not confirmed when their help will arrive. Officials in Jakarta say Russia is still waiting for a price-quotation from Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the head of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, Abet Nego Tarigan, has called on President Jokowi to improve communication with other countries who had been impacted by the haze.

“Indonesia should explain the real situation, what happened and how did they are handling it. We think it’s more about the communication of political issues with the international world," said Tarigan.

Indonesia has come under heavy pressure from its neighbors and environmental groups to crack down on the nearly annual practice of companies setting forest fires, frequently to make way for palm oil plantations.

Minister of Environmental and Forestry Affairs Siti Nurbaya Tuesday repeated the government's pledge to tackle the problem. She said 30 corporate permits will be revoked and more than 420 corporations are being investigated.

Thousands have developed respiratory infections due to the smoke, and many environmental NGOs plan to sue the government, alleging officials have ignored the well-being of communities affected by the smoke.

More than 22,000 police and military personnel have been deployed to combat more than 1,600 fires spread across six provinces.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Indonesian service.