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Are Indonesia's Plans To Prevent Haze Enough?

Tiffany Tan
Aug 21 2007 (TODAY)

IF THE Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) wishes, it can
muscle Indonesia into solving its notorious haze problem.

Asean needs to penalise member states that do not comply with regional
agreements such as its anti-haze pact, suggested Dr Rizal Sukma, deputy
executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies,
a Jakarta-based think tank.

"Unless we have this instrument that can actually force member states to
follow all these agreements, then it would be difficult to push for better
implementation," he said on the sidelines of the Second Regional Dialogue
on Haze yesterday in Singapore.

Members may be banned from certain meetings, for example, he said. "You
can't just expel Indonesia from Asean, because we can't expel Burma even
though they violate human rights," he added.

In a statement, the delegates welcomed the intention of Asean leaders to
focus on environmental issues at their summit in Singapore in November,
hoping "that this would provide political will" to address the problem.

Indonesia, which is the main source of South-east Asia's annual haze, is
one of two remaining member states that have yet to ratify Asean's 2002
Agreement on Transboundary Haze. The Philippines is the other.

Mr Heddy Mukna, Assistant Deputy at Indonesia's Ministry of Environment,
said his country is likely to ratify the treaty by next year.

Asked to comment on Dr Sukma's call to sanction countries that produce
haze, Mr Mukna would not speak on behalf of the government. But in his
personal capacity, he said of the plan: "I think it's good."

The anti-haze agreement binds Asean countries to minimise open burning,
volunteer information and allow firefighters from member nations into
their country.

During the dialogue, Mr Mukna highlighted what Indonesia has done since
last October's inaugural meeting.

In 10 fire-prone provinces, there are now 1,560 personnel in fire
brigades. The authorities have also identified three palm oil firms that
practise open burning, and they are now under investigation.

With help from the German government, Indonesia is developing a fire
control centre in East Kalimantan. It is also developing an early-warning
system with the help of a Japanese institution. This year, said Mr Mukna,
it aims to reduce its forest fire areas by half, compared to last year.

As last year's haze episodes were the worst since 1997 and 1998, some
non-government organisations at the dialogue said the goal seemed
unrealistic. But Mr Mukna told Today that "targets should be high, that
will make all the parties work hard".

Indonesia has shown it is trying to respond to calls made in last year's
dialogue, said Mrs Maricar Muzones, a policy researcher for Japan's
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. But "what is yet to be seen
is actually how far these policies are performing".

Dr David Glover of Canada's International Development Research Centre, who
has followed the haze issue since 1997, said Indonesia has taken "some
positive steps", but their implementation of laws on burning was