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Indonesia president apologizes again for haze

October 5, 1997

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Indonesian President Suharto apologized a second time Sunday for wildfires that have choked the skies of Southeast Asian with a thick blanket of haze.

Suharto said Indonesians need ``more time″ to extinguish the flames and ordered the armed forces to step up firefighting efforts.

``This thick smoke has brought losses not only to our people, but also to people in neighboring countries,″ he said in a speech marking the 52nd anniversary of the country’s armed forces. ``For that, Indonesia once again apologizes sincerely to those countries.″

Hundreds of fires, set by forest companies, plantation owners and farmers to clear land cheaply, have been burning out of control across Indonesia for two months.

The smoke they have generated has drifted over Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, as well as parts of Thailand and the Philippines, threatening the health of millions and causing untold economic losses.

Critics have complained that Indonesia has not done enough to put out the flames and punish those who lit them. Suharto had apologized earlier.

Indonesia said it would try to prosecute at least 176 forestry and plantation companies it suspects of lighting fires.

Poor visibility from the haze may have been a factor in the crash of a jetliner in Sumatra on Sept. 26 in which all 234 people aboard died. It has also been blamed for a series of fatal ship collisions.

Normally, heavy monsoon rains at this time of year extinguish brush fires. But El Nino, an abnormal weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean, has triggered Indonesia’s worst drought in half a century.

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