In Focus

Published: Saturday 15 November 1997

The forest fires in Indonesia that have been raging for more than two months are spreading further in the provinces of Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of the Borneo island) and Sulawesi. The National Coordination Centre for Ground Fire Control, Jakarta, was quoted by the state-run Antara news agency in the second week of October to have said that the fires were spreading further. Satellite images revealed that 62 major blazes had been detected by October 12. On October 4, the count stood at 40. The increase in the number of hot spots comes despite massive efforts to put out the fires {Air is foul, where foul is fair, Down To Earth, Vol 6, No 11).

The Indonesian forestry minister Jamaluddin Suryohadikusomo had announced in the first week of October that the fires had receded. "According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA) satellite imaging, the number of fire spots have gone down," he had said. Rainfall had also helped suppress the fires and the consequent smog at the time. But the smog is beginning to spread again according to reports.

Interestingly, on October 17 Malaysia recalled a majority of the 1,200-odd fire fighters that had been deployed to battle the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Reports have been appearing in the media that the Malaysian government plans to take up the issue at the International Court of Justice, The Hague, against Indonesia. The Indonesian attorney general (AG) Singgih said that he was not aware of any plans on the part of the Malaysian government to sue Indonesia. But should that happen, the AG's office was ready to fight against any legal claim, he said.

Mohamad Rahmat, the Malaysian information minister, announced that a memorandum of understanding would be signed with Indonesia in November for longterm cooperation in fighting such fires.

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