World can do nothing to force Indonesia to act on forest fires: PM Mahathir

World can do nothing to force Indonesia to act on forest fires: PM Mahathir

The city is shrouded with haze in Kuala Lumpur
The city is shrouded with haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Sep 18, 2019. (Photo: AP/Vincent Thian)

NEW YORK: The current international system is such that nothing could be done to compel Indonesia to deal with its forest fires, which affect the region every now and then, said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday (Sep 25).

“You can blame Indonesia, you can criticise them but they'll continue to have their fires,” he said.

Dr Mahathir was fielding questions at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University, as part of his visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

The prime minister was asked whether stronger actions such as economic sanctions, or leveraging the international community to speak up against Indonesia would help address the haze problem, given the gravity of the situation. 

Mahathir world leaders forum columbia university
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad fields questions at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University in New York. (Photo: Facebook/Dr Mahathir Mohamad)

In his reply, he drew a parallel with the forest fires that occurred in Brazil.

"As you know the new president of Brazil believes in burning the forest for more agriculture (activities), and nobody has stopped him yet. So I think the system does not allow us to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,” he said.

READ: Regional haze eases for the moment as rain brings relief to Indonesia’s Sumatra, Kalimantan

Dr Mahathir noted that there will come a time when forest fires would become so severe that the whole world would be enveloped by haze.

"At that time I think the United Nations (UN) might say, well, this is not a national problem, this is not a domestic affair (any longer), this is a problem for the world (to resolve) and that the world should exercise the right to take action.

"If we have that frame of mind, then we can do something when somebody refuses to accept help to put out the fires, for example," he said.

Dr Mahathir said that at this moment, “the UN can do nothing, but we should try persuasion".

READ: Malaysian environment minister brushes off calls for resignation amid alleged conflict of interest in handling haze issue

Malaysia, which was choked by haze originated from fires in Indonesia in the past few weeks, has said it was ready to assist Indonesia in its firefighting efforts, but the offer was not taken up.

The offer was made through a letter written by Mdm Yeo Bee Yin, Minister for Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, to her Indonesian counterpart and Indonesia’s embassy in Malaysia.

Last Thursday, Dr Mahathir said he would like to ask Indonesian President Joko Widodo why Jakarta has refused Malaysia’s help to fight forest fires.

“I would like to ask, ‘why you don’t want to receive out help?’ But I have not done that,” he said, according to Malay Mail.

Meanwhile, Malaysia is mulling a Transboundary Haze Act to compel its companies to put out fires on land they operate abroad. 

Source: Bernama/CNA/tx(aw)

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