Fight the haze or choke investors, Lee warns RI

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to express his disappointment over smog from land-clearing fires in Indonesia that have blanketed parts of Southeast Asia.

In the letter, the Associated Press reported Lee stating that "Indonesia needed to deal with the problem in a timely and effective manner, so that investor confidence in Indonesia, Indonesia's international standing and ASEAN's credibility would not be affected".

"Mr. Lee had also noted that while it may be too late this year to prevent the fires that cause the haze, it was critical to take action now in order to prevent future forest fires," Singapore's foreign ministry said.

In the letter, Lee noted a meeting of ASEAN ministers would be held in Singapore on Friday to muster resources to help Indonesia handle the smog.

Lee said the meeting could lay the groundwork for an larger international forum held by Indonesia to marshal expertise and resources needed to tackle the problem.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda suggested Indonesia could also host a meeting in Riau province, heavily affected by the haze.

Hassan said while the five countries affected by the haze -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand -- had agreed to meet in Singapore, "as part of our response we should have a meeting in one of the areas in Indonesia emitting the haze such as Riau."

The talks, if possible, should be at a higher level than a ministerial meeting, he said.

In recent weeks, the haze has shrouded skies in Southeast Asia causing air quality to plunge to unhealthy levels at times.

Hassan said the President had insisted Indonesia take the initiative to host such a meeting here.

Regarding the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution which Indonesia has yet to ratify, Hassan said the Environment Ministry had submitted a draft bill to the House of Representatives where it was being deliberated.

He said Indonesia could understand why neighboring countries were annoyed by the haze.

"That's why we will respond positively to any efforts to resolve it," he said.
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