PETALING JAYA: “I am sorry” – these are the words of Indonesia’s Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar over the haze situation that has enveloped parts of Malaysia.
“The haze has become more acute for our neighbours in Malaysia and we are truly sorry for this. We are very concerned about the worsening situation, caused mainly by open burning in Sumatra,” he told The Star yesterday.
Rachmat said firemen and soldiers had been sent to hotspots to put out the fires.
On Sunday, the number of hotspots detected by satellite reached 333 and there was a significant drop in visibility, especially in the Klang Valley.
Rachmat said the Indonesian Government was concerned with the increase in hotspots and the haze in Malaysia.
“Our regional office in Pekanbaru has been mobilised to coordinate fire-fighting activities.
“The Forestry Ministry is directly involved to supervise the situation,” he said.
Rachmat said he had yet to receive the data on the number of hotspots but added that action would be taken on those found lighting up.
“If plantation owners are found to have started these fires, we will prosecute them, as we have in the past.
“Our priority now is to put out all the fires and work with our counterparts in Malaysia to tackle this,” he added.
On whether those found illegally clearing forest areas would face the death penalty as announced last year, he said: “No, as that interim law has yet to be passed.”
Last year, Rachmat’s predecessor Nabiel Makarim had said that illegal loggers in Indonesia, who were blamed for the forest fires that caused the haze in neighbouring countries, might face the death penalty when the interim law is passed and signed by the president.
The law would have imposed a minimum jail sentence of 12 years on those found guilty.
The death sentence was the maximum penalty.