JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia agreed Thursday to move up a regional meeting on forest fires on Sumatra island that have caused record-setting pollution in the country and in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.
Minister of Environment Balthasar Kambuaya said Indonesia supports a Malaysian proposal to hold the ministerial meeting on cross-border haze pollution early next month instead of in August as was scheduled.
"Malaysia proposes it to be expedited to early July, and Indonesia supports that," Kambuaya said after meeting with his Malaysian counterpart, G. Palanivel.
Other participants in the meeting are Brunei, Singapore and Thailand.
Kambuaya said he told Palanivel about the steps Indonesia has taken to overcome the haze problem.
Palanivel said his country was ready to help Indonesia to fight the fires.
"The most important thing at this moment is to control the haze situation in Sumatra, with all of potential that we have, including by cloud-seeding, water bombing and firefighters," Palanivel said.
Indonesia has formally apologized to Singapore and Malaysia over the haze, which has affected air quality and caused respiratory problems in all three countries.
Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hassan said police have arrested 14 farmers accused of setting illegal fires. The fires are a cheap way for farmers to clear their land. Thirteen of the farmers worked for plantation companies.
However, police are still investigating whether they were ordered by the companies to clear the land or if they set the fires on their own.
In Riau, Col. Andyawan, an air force officer who leads the firefighting task force, said 50 to 60 fires are still burning in three districts of the province. He said three aircraft will conduct cloud seeding to induce rain while soldiers help extinguish the fires on land.
Each year, forest fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands smother parts of nearby Singapore and Malaysia in haze. The Indonesian government usually blames plantation owners and traditional farmers for illegally setting the fires.