Indonesia's Joko Widodo seeks forest fire help

Media caption,
Greenpeace video shows the haze from forest fires

Indonesia's president has asked for international assistance to put out forest fires that have sent a thick haze over the region.

After refusing offers of help from Singapore, Joko Widodo said he had now accepted.

He said he also wanted help from Russia, Malaysia and Japan.

The forest fires are the result of annual slash-and-burn practices by companies clearing land for palm oil and pulp wood plantations.

They are burning mainly on Sumatra island and Indonesia's part of Borneo island, known as Kalimantan, both above ground and underneath the peat-rich soil.

Read more about the haze

Image source, Getty Images

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The haze has pushed air quality to dangerous, and sometimes hazardous, levels across parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand.

On the worst days, schools have been closed and some flights affected.

'We need planes'

In a statement on the cabinet secretary website, Mr Widodo confirmed Indonesia had asked for and received help from Singapore.

"We hope this will speed up the process because fires on peat land is different from regular forest fires," he said.

"What we need now are planes that can carry 12-15 tonnes of water, not like the 2-3 tonnes we have now," he said.

Singapore's foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday night that his country was offering Indonesia military equipment and personnel, satellite pictures, and fire hotspot coordinates.

Image source, Press Association
Image caption,
Peat fires are harder to put out than normal forest fires

It has also requested the names of companies suspected of involvement in causing the haze, who can be punished under Singapore laws. Indonesia has previously pointed out that some palm oil, paper and pulp companies which operate in its territory have Singapore and Malaysian stakeholders.

Meanwhile Islamic authorities in Malaysia have called on Muslims to hold special prayer sessions for the haze to end.

Othman Mustapha, head of the government's department of Islamic Development, said in a Facebook post that the haze "has created fear and concern among the people due to its health impact... the aim is to pray that the haze that we are facing will end quickly".

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Singapore and Malaysia have been shrouded in the smoky haze for weeks