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Title: Kathirasen on Sunday: Fire in the belly, smoke in the air
Date: 08-Oct-2006
Category: Malaysia
Source/Author: New Straights Times (Malaysia)
Description: Karthirasen is a news writer for the Malaysian paper News Straits Times. This article is written from the writer's point of view, and probably many others affected by the current fire and haze situation that has grappled the SE Asian region.

I APPLAUD Indonesia. What courage. What fire in the belly. The source of the regional haze problem is the only country among Asean nations yet to ratify the Asean Transboundary Haze Agreement, approved in 2002.

As Asean practises non-interference, the most Kuala Lumpur will do, as Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid recently did, is urge Indonesia to "please, please" ratify the treaty.

"Without their ratification, we cannot progress to take more detailed and concrete steps against the haze," Azmi lamented.

Lament all you want minister, the Indonesians are resolute: They will not be pushed around. No sir.

Indonesia merely wants to share smoke with its neighbours. If we decide to choke on it, what can poor Indonesia do?

And if anyone concludes that Indonesia is systematically poisoning not only its own citizens, but also others in the region, including you and me, blow that thought away as simply a cloud of hazy thinking. Gradual attempted mass murder is not a crime yet.

True, every year, Malay- sians in Sarawak breathe in the fumes that originate from forest fires started by logging companies, plantation owners or shifting cultivators across the border in Indonesia.

True, almost every year, the smoke is blown across into Peninsular Malaysia choking thousands. But, hey, what can the Indonesians do? It’s not their fault that Malaysians chose to live next to them.

It’s not their fault that Sarawak shares a border with Indonesia.

So, in the Asean spirit of amity and co-operation, I will not blame Indonesia for making Malaysians ill and causing millions in damages — year in, year out.

I believe President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is well aware of the problem.

"The President has said the haze from forest fires is very disturbing. Therefore, he asked the PBP Bakornas (natural disaster management coordinating board) chief to put out as many hot spots as possible," Communication and Information Minister Sofyan Djalil was quoted as saying by the Indonesian news agency Antara.

I’m so reassured that the Indonesian president finds the haze causing misery to millions "disturbing".

Vice-President M. Jusuf Kalla said: "Measures should be taken so that we will no longer be known as a ‘haze exporter’ and as a country of floods." There you have it, the reason we should not condemn the Indonesians.

They are doing something. Sure, they have been saying the same things since the haze started choking Malaysians in 1990. Don’t forget, talking is also doing something.

And forget the talk about corruption being a way of life in Indonesia. We should not always believe the statistics, especially if it involves a friendly neighbour.

I have heard many environmentalists say the forest fires are caused by greed and stupidity. But you won’t catch me repeating it. No sir, I will never say this of our 245 million-strong neighbour.

Not even when I know that between June and August this year, there were 52,599 hotspots in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi. Not even the knowledge that, during the same period, 8,476 forest fires were recorded in seven provinces will make me say greed and stupidity caused it.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Masud was reported as saying: "Local governments only make noise after fires have become big and caused haze problems."

Now, that reminds me of our local authorities and state governments. Most of them never seem to know about hill clearance, illegal logging and dumping of rubbish into rivers until the situation reaches crisis proportions, or the Prime Minister takes notice.

Is this a trans-boundary illness, I wonder.

Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban shared some information that warmed the cockles of my heart. Kaban said Malaysians were on the list of people wanted for starting the fires and that "about four or five" of the wanted Malaysians were hiding in Jambi province.

A number of Malaysians are joint venture partners of Indonesian logging firms and plantations. Now, here is another compelling reason not to condemn Indonesia.

Even when lives were lost and thousands sought treatment during the 1998 haze which cost damages of about RM33 billion, no nation openly castigated the Indonesians. No nation cut off ties with Jakarta. No nation sent a protest note.

Did any local non-governmental organisation or political body march to the Indonesian embassy to hand over a protest note or to stage a demonstration?

Indonesia knows there is a moral haziness about the whole issue; a blur on the regional political horizon.

So, the fires will continue burning. Because Indonesia has a fire in the belly.

Health consists of having the same diseases as one’s neighbours. — Quentin Crisp

Website (URL) http://www.nst.com.my

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