Six countries to help Indonesia fight forest fires


Six countries will help Indonesia fight forest fires which have sent choking smog across parts of South-East Asia, President Joko Widodo said Friday.

Joko on Thursday announced that he had asked friendly countries to help extinguish the fires, in a reversal from an earlier stance of rejecting foreign involvement.

Australia, China, Russia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea have expressed readiness to help, with the Singapore team being the first to arrive Friday, Joko said.

“I expect help [from other countries] will start to arrive on Sunday,” Joko was quoted as saying by the state-run Antara news agency in Riau, one of the six provinces on Sumatra and Borneo island affected by the haze.

Foreign assistance mainly involved sending aircraft to carry out water bombings to extinguish the fires on Sumatra island, he said.

Joko said fires in peatlands were difficult to extinguish because they could burn underground for a long time even though no blazes were visible on the surface.

Haze from forest fires is an annual hazard that also frequently affects neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

The pollution has led this year to school closures, flight disruptions and worsening respiratory conditions in areas affected.

The practice of open burning to clear land for agriculture is illegal but common in Indonesia.