Indonesia accepts international help to combat fires

Indonesian police and firefighters extinguish a fire on burning peat land in the district of Kapuas in the Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island during President Joko Widodo's inspection of a firefighting operation to control agricultural and forest fires on September 24, 2015. AFP Photo

Indonesia agreed Oct. 8 to accept international help to combat forest and agricultural fires cloaking Southeast Asia in haze, after weeks of failed attempts to douse the blazes that have infuriated its neighbours.

Officials said Singapore and Russia had already offered help and talks were under way with several other countries, an about-face after Jakarta insisted for weeks that it could tackle the crisis alone.
"Hopefully, we can speed up our efforts," President Joko Widodo said Oct. 8 as he set off to visit western Sumatra island, the site of many of the smog-belching blazes.    

For weeks, fires illegally started to clear land for plantations on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo have shrouded Singapore and Malaysia in acrid smog, worsening air quality, closing schools and forcing the cancellation of outdoor events.
The blazes are an annual occurrence during the dry season, but scientists have warned this year's are on track to be the worst ever due to an El Nino weather system that has created tinder-dry conditions in Indonesia.
Jakarta has deployed about 25,000 personnel and aircraft, but the fire-fighters have seemed overwhelmed by the extent of the blazes.    

Tensions have been rising between Jakarta and its neighbours as the haze spreads, with Singapore's biggest supermarket chain on Wednesday withdrawing paper products made by an Indonesia-owned company, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), accused over the haze.
Authorities had for weeks rejected offers of help from other countries but with no sign of the fires abating, Widodo had a change of heart.    

"This remains a challenge for us so we feel it is important to cooperate with countries with resources to assist...

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