From: Reuters
Published March 14, 2008 06:52 AM

Indonesia lawmakers set to reject ASEAN haze pact

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian lawmakers are set to reject a Southeast Asian pact designed to fight cross-border smoke caused by forests fires, a legislator from an environmental commission said on Friday.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations approved the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 and Indonesia, where most of the fires occur, is the only country that has not ratified it, drawing criticism from its neighbors affected by the annual haze.

The agreement calls for a regional coordinating centre to help mobilize resources to fight the fires, often triggered by slash-and-burn practices by farmers, timber and plantation companies.

Alvin Lie, a legislator from the National Mandate Party, said ratifying the pact would subject Indonesia to binding obligations, which include introducing legislation and measures to promote a zero-burning policy.

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"The benefits of ratifying the pact are smaller compared to the obligations," Lie told Reuters. "The agreement is not subject to amendment so once we ratify it we're stuck."

Lie said legislators at an environmental commission aired their opposition to the pact during a hearing with Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban on Thursday and the House of Representatives was expected to formalize its rejection next week.

He said Indonesia had made great progress in curbing forest fires and did not need a regional haze pact.

Since 1997 peat and forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo islands have triggered a choking haze billowing across the region to Singapore, Malaysia and parts of Thailand.

The haze has made many people ill across a wide area of Southeast Asia and cost local economies billions of dollars and badly hit the tourism and airline sectors.

Lie also said Indonesia's neighbors were turning a blind eye to the problem of illegal logging in Indonesia.

"They are not showing a cooperative attitude even though they receive illegal timber from our country and now they are pressuring us on the haze issue," he said.

Indonesian bans the practice of clearing land by fire but prosecutions take time and few have stuck.

(Reporting by Ahmad Pathoni; Editing by Ed Davies)

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