Thursday, 1 October 2015

Singapore 'respects Indonesia's sovereignty'

That applies to airspace control, air force training areas and haze crisis, Ng Eng Hen tells ministers in Jakarta
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2015

Singapore respects Indonesia's sovereignty with regard to airspace control, training areas over the South China Sea and even the current haze crisis, which Singapore has offered to help resolve.

That was the key message Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has conveyed to his Indonesian counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu and Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, at high-level talks on Monday in Jakarta.

"We had very good meetings and both sides saw eye to eye on the basis of our long-term relationship... based on mutual respect and regard for each other's sovereignty and well-being," he said.

Dr Ng, who retained the defence portfolio in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's new Cabinet announced on Monday, was speaking to The Straits Times yesterday at the end of his working visit.

He told both ministers that he was aware of comments by Indonesian officials over the Flight Information Region (FIR), which Singapore controls for take-off, landing and over-flights in the region.

The Indonesian Air Force recently complained about Singapore's military activities in the airspace above the Riau Islands.

It said a bilateral military pact that allows such activities had expired in 2001 and was never renewed due to objections by Indonesian lawmakers and concerns over national sovereignty.

Dr Ng, however, said he sought to assure Indonesia that Singapore did not disregard Indonesia's sovereignty with respect to the FIR, training by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) or even the haze crisis.

Singapore has been in control of flights in the airspace above some areas in Riau since 1946, and Dr Ng said the current set of agreements was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

"With regard to RSAF training, I took pains to explain to them that our flight training... was in full compliance with international agreements, specifically Unclos," said

Dr Ng, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He added that the RSAF has been training over the South China Sea since the 1960s - before the Unclos was ratified by countries such as Singapore and Indonesia.

"And before we ratified the Unclos agreement, we were very careful to ensure that our training in the South China Sea will be preserved as we sign on the agreement," he said. "So we fully respected their sovereignty but the overall message was that our relationship with Indonesia was a longstanding one.

"We have benefited each other... over the past few decades because there was mutual regard and respect for each other's sovereignty as well as well-being."

During the talks, Dr Ng also raised the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) offer to help Indonesia deal with the raging forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Indonesia has been grappling with the transboundary haze crisis, which was caused by illegal forest fires in the two territories.

Dr Ng said he had made the offer on the basis of Singapore's close relationship with Indonesia.

"And it was in that context that I reiterated the SAF's offer to assist in the haze," he said.

"But of course, fully respecting Indonesia's sovereignty, it is up to them to activate our help and our help stands ready."

<<“For my own people”>>The message I received from Indonesian leaders was a good one. They want to resolve the haze...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Offer to help Indonesia fight haze 'still stands'
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2015

Singapore's offer to help Indonesia resolve the haze crisis still stands and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will also consider enhancing its assistance package if more aid is needed, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

"If they need more help... the SAF is always open to consider more help," said Dr Ng, who was speaking to The Straits Times a day after high-level talks in Jakarta. He said he made the offer again during his talks with Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu on Monday.

"And both Pak Ryamizard and Pak Luhut thanked me for this offer and they understood that the offer is still open," he added.

Indonesia has struggled to put out illegal forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that have blanketed many parts of the country, Singapore and Malaysia in thick smoke.

Singapore extended a helping hand to Indonesia earlier this month, but its help was thrice rejected publicly by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who said her country had the resources to deal with the crisis.

The Singapore offer, however, has elicited mixed responses from Indonesian leaders. Lawmaker Ahmadi Noor Supit told the government not to reject offers of aid to put out the fires. "We should not be averse to it, we should not act as though we can cope alone, especially in terms of funding and equipment," he added.

Mr Ahmadi's comments come on the back of remarks by Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who said on Sunday: "Singapore can come and see for themselves if they want to help. Don't just talk."

Dr Ng said yesterday that while Singapore's offer remains, it was up to Indonesia "to activate our help".

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also said he was "more than willing" to help Indonesia deal with the fires alongside Singapore.

Meanwhile, the haze continues to wreak havoc in the region. Acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman yesterday extended the state of emergency in his province after it was covered by haze that reduced visibility to about 100m.

Hazy conditions in Singapore took a turn for the worse yesterday, with air quality reaching very unhealthy levels. The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) entered the very unhealthy band of 142-203 at 4am. As of 3pm, the 24-hour PSI was between 172 and 210. The three-hour PSI, which is not tied to a health advisory, stood at 246.

Indonesian govt determined to resolve crisis: Eng Hen
By Francis Chan and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2015

Indonesia is determined to resolve the haze crisis for its own people and that is a good starting point, said Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, after holding high-level talks with Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu in Jakarta on Monday.

"We talked about how (the haze) can be dealt with, and their motivation to deal with it was primarily because the health of their own citizens is being affected," said Dr Ng.

He added that the two ministers also gave the assurance that progress has been made by Indonesia to prevent, rather than react to, the crisis. "Prevention of haze requires engineering solutions - how to stop forest fires before they occur, as well as enforcement and legislation to stop errant companies that are resorting to slash-and-burn techniques for commercial reasons."

A third point that signalled to Dr Ng there was progress in mitigating the haze crisis was Mr Luhut's point that he is willing to work with non-governmental organisations to resolve the problem.

"And I think the more they open up - not only to Singapore but to other countries to help deal with this regional issue... I think better, quicker the solutions will be found," said Dr Ng.

Jakarta to take 40 haze fire cases to court: Police chief
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Correspondent In KualaLumpur, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2015

Indonesia's police chief Badrodin Haiti has assured Asean ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur of his country's commitment to solve the haze problem caused by illegal forest fires in two of its provinces.

Though the issue is not on the agenda of the 10th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC), General Badrodin said the Indonesian authorities were making headway in bringing those who flouted forestry, plantation and environmental laws to book.

About 210 cases of forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra were being investigated, and 40 were ready to be taken to court soon, he added.

"Usually, foreign investors use nominees, not their own names but the names of Indonesians," he told reporters when explaining the difficulty in bringing perpetrators to court.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirmed the haze issue was raised at the ministers' meeting and that Indonesia's delegation promised that stern legal action would be taken, including freezing the assets and revoking the land concession permits of errant companies.

"We appreciate their commitment and we hope it is translated into actions," Datuk Seri Zahid, who is also Home Minister, told reporters after chairing the morning session.

Indonesia has suspended the permits of three plantation companies and revoked the forestry concession of another company.

Last week, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) initiated legal action against five Indonesian companies it believes are among the culprits behind the fires.

One of the companies is Asia Pulp & Paper, which was ordered by the NEA to provide information on its Singapore and Indonesian subsidiaries, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

Under Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, a local or foreign company can be fined up to $100,000 a day, capped at $2 million, for causing unhealthy levels of haze pollution.

Singapore's Second Minister for Home and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, speaking on the sidelines of the AMMTC, said that even if some punishments were not enforceable overseas, the reputation of companies was at stake when exporting to markets that are sensitive to environmental responsibility.

"It's not just a monetary issue, not just the penalty you can impose on them. Countries around Europe, the US and some parts of Asia are already acceding to the fact that we want to source from companies that are environmentally responsible. By taking such action, we hope we will send a good signal to these companies to take it seriously, because it will affect their bottom line," said Mr Masagos, who will take charge as Environment and Water Resources Minister tomorrow.

Yesterday, the AMMTC was due to sign on two KL Declarations that would add smuggling of wildlife, timber and people as priority areas for transnational crime.

But sources said the formalising of the agreement was postponed as Thai officials needed to get clearance from Bangkok.

Thailand had also held out as a temporary shelter when Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to bring in thousands of boat people stranded off their shared coasts along the Andaman Sea earlier this year, in a humanitarian crisis that prompted several rounds of emergency Asean meetings.

Indonesia open to help from any country, including Singapore: VP Jusuf Kalla
"Singapore, please come if you want to help. Don't just talk," Mr Kalla was quoted by Indonesian news agency Antara News as saying. 
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Sep 2015

The Indonesian government is open to help from any country, including Singapore, if they wish to assist in fighting the forest fires that are causing the haze in the region, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Sunday (Sep 27).

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York, Mr Kalla said the Indonesian government has noted Singapore’s protests against the haze.

"Please come, we are open. Singapore can see for itself. Singapore, please come if you want to help. Don't just talk," local news agency Antara News quoted Mr Kalla as saying.

Mr Kalla said Indonesia has explained that it is working hard to put out the forest fires, but it is difficult to solve the problem within a short period of time.

"The forest fires in Indonesia are helped by the dry weather and winds," he said.

This is not the first time Mr Kalla is inviting Singapore to help. On Sep 15, he appealed to Singapore through local media to help fight the fires, and was quoted as saying: “Singapore, please come. Singapore also knows that the natural disaster can happen anywhere.”

The Singapore Armed Forces had offered to send C-130s for cloud seeding and Chinooks to carry large water buckets to douse the fires.

However, Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has declined Singapore's assistance, and said that her country is trying to handle the crisis on its own. Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi also said that she has spoken with her Singaporean counterpart to explain the steps that Jakarta has taken.

"Indonesia is very serious about resolving the fires, and this will be complemented with law enforcement and education," said Ms Retno.

Indonesia needs three years to solve haze problem, says President Joko Widodo
The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2015

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said he needs time to tackle the forest-burning, and that his citizens were also victims of the haze that is affecting the region.

However, it would take three years for results to be seen from efforts to end the huge annual fires, as it is "not a problem that you can solve quickly", Mr Joko said in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

More than 3,700 soldiers, nearly 8,000 police officers and four water-bombing planes in Indonesia have been deployed to put out the fires.

Singapore has offered assistance, but Indonesia has yet to accept the help. Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also said he was "more than willing" to help.

Indonesia is building water reserves in the forest and canals to get water to the hotspots, Mr Joko said, following a visit to Central Kalimantan to inspect the damage from raging fires last week.

Laws against forest-burning have also been enforced, he added.

On Tuesday, Indonesia's police chief Badrodin Haiti told Asean ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur that about 210 cases of forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra were being investigated, and 40 were ready to be taken to court soon

Singapore too have begun legal action against five Indonesian firms it believes are among the culprits behind the fires.

"You will see results soon and in three years we will have solved this," Mr Joko said.

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