Yudhoyono defends apology on haze

Indonesia's bargaining position on other issues not affected, he stresses
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta
Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has rebutted critics at home who said his apology on Monday night to Singapore and Malaysia over the haze was excessive.

"The fact is the haze was from Indonesia, so we take responsibility, and saying sorry in that context, to me, is not excessive," he told reporters yesterday.

"At the same time, I said that what was happening was not intentional, and Indonesia had no intention to trouble its neighbours."

His unexpected apology had attracted, in the past 48 hours, criticism from various quarters. The Muslim-leaning Republika daily said yesterday he had "hurt the people", and the often critical Media Indonesia daily said he had "dragged down national pride".

A good number of politicians and the public had also been critical of the move, with some saying he had caved in to external pressure and the apology had shown Indonesia up as weak.

Yesterday, Dr Yudhoyono said he had been following conversations on social media and was concerned that SMSes and press questions to ministers had misinterpreted his remarks.

A minister had also received "weird" media questions wondering whether the stepped-up response to the haze - more than 3,000 staff were sent to Riau in the past two days - was the result of pressure from Singapore or another country, he noted.

"No one instructed me as president of a sovereign country," he told reporters at Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase.

"What I have done in the past two to three days - massive handling, deploying more officers - is fully my decision," he said.

"The thick haze has also inconvenienced our brothers in Riau."

Dr Yudhoyono stressed that the haze would have no impact on Indonesia's bargaining position on other issues, whether territorial disputes with Malaysia or the return of ill-gotten assets of corrupt Indonesians in Singapore.

"A sovereign country need not be afraid of any other country, not of Malaysia, not of Singapore," he said. "On sovereignty and other matters, there can be no compromise."

He said Indonesia would firmly defend Ambalat, an oil-rich block in the Sulawesi Sea that Malaysia also claims, and ensure that Indonesian workers in Malaysia are protected and given their rights.

On Singapore, he noted that "in general, our relations are very good and mutually beneficial, but Indonesia will continue to ensure the extradition treaty with Singapore can be enforced".

Both countries signed the extradition treaty, with a defence cooperation agreement, in 2007, but Indonesia's Parliament has refused to ratify them.

Dr Yudhoyono hoped bilateral ties with both its neighbours would also be safeguarded in a mutually respectful Asean spirit.

He said he scanned the international media early every morning, and felt Singapore media reporting on the issue had been "excessive" and "put Indonesia's image in a bad light globally".

This year's haze, he noted, was exceptionally bad due to extreme weather, and Indonesia was doing all it could to manage the disaster and provide relief for its people and its neighbours.

His comments come as parts of Malaysia got a respite from the haze as rain fell for a second day. Cloud-seeding and water-bombing operations also continued over parts of Riau.

Malaysian Environment Minister G. Palanivel arrived in Jakarta yesterday afternoon and will meet his counterpart today.

Background story


I read myself that since 1997, Indonesia is viewed as continuing to pollute the air in Singapore. I think that is excessive. I am sure Singapore and Indonesia have both benefited from bilateral cooperation, especially in the economic and business fields. It is certainly hurtful if there are hints that Indonesia creates problems for its neighbours. I find it regrettable that such news comes at a time when we are seriously tackling the disaster.

- Dr Yudhoyono, citing what he called "excessive" Singapore media reports on the haze

I have instructed the community, primarily governors and bupatis (regents) in Sumatra and Kalimantan to be on alert, look out and take early steps to prevent and mitigate cases of burning and haze. Remember, the driest season is usually in July and August, and we are only in June. I ask the public and the press to monitor the governments in areas prone to plantation fires so that they take responsible and necessary action now.

- Dr Yudhoyono, calling for local communities to help in efforts to battle the fires

President Yudhoyono hopes neighbors not to send wrong signals
Antara 26 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said neighboring countries should not give wrong signals over land and forest fires that had created haze.

"I told our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia that 2013 was a different year. We have tried to prevent (fires) since 2006 and there was a year when we almost had no fires. But the condition this year is exceptional because there is extreme hot weather where peat land is flammable though there is also human factor," the President said at Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase here on Wednesday.

The Head of State was referring to reports and opinions in Singapore and Malaysia which said that since 1997 Indonesia had been sending pollution to Singapore.

"I follow international media (reports) in the morning, afternoon and night. In my opinion many reports which I always observed in Singapore were exaggerated so that they smeared the image of Indonesia in world`s eyes," President Yudhoyono said.

"I read and followed reports which gave the impression that since 1997 Indonesia had been polluting the Singapore air. I think this is exaggerating. I am convinced that Singapore and Indonesia mutually benefit from their business and economic cooperation. Of course it hurts us if it leaves the impression that Indonesia only poses problems to its neighbors, and I once again regret such intensive reports ," Yudhoyono said.

He said that the Indonesian government exerted its full efforts to put out the land and forest fires which created smokes.

"I believe that we have heart and good cooperation and with that reason our relations with whatever sides will be good. I believe this theory and since I became president in the past nine years. This is for the first time I make a statement like this," he said.

The President has been following the dynamism of relations between Indonesia and Malaysia as well as Singapore and the peak of the dynamism takes place with regard the (haze) incident in the past one week.

"It peaks this week for our goodness. The smoke and (forest) fires should not be mistaken as we will be responsible to overcome it. Bilateral relations are something that must proceed forever. Let us build friendship and partnership as wise as possible," the President said.

On the occasion, the President also stressed that the government`s efforts to soon put out the fires that caused haze were not because of pressures or of being afraid of any countries but of its responsibility as a sovereign country and as a good neighbor.

Editor: Priyambodo RH