Suharto orders airport in Medan to be relocated

Transport and forestry chiefs pressured to quit.

PRESIDENT Suharto has ordered officials to relocate Medan’s Polonia airport to ensure future flight safety – an instruction that came amid mounting pressure on the government to improve Indonesia’s environment and transport safety record after last Friday’s air crash.

Calls have also been made for Transport Minister Haryanto Dhanutirto and Forestry Minister Djamaluddin Suryohadikusumo to resign and accept responsibility respectively for the country’s worst air disaster, the forest fires and the resulting haze which has enveloped the region.

The Antara national news agency quoted State Secretary Moerdiono as saying that Mr Suharto expressed concern about the “many accidents involving flights to Medan”.

Mr Haryanto has been instructed to draw up short and long-term measures to guarantee the safety of all planes landing at Polonia Airport in the north Sumatran city.

These would include the airport’s relocation – a measure given greater urgency after last Friday’s crash of a Garuda Airbus A-300, which killed all 234 people on board.

There has been widespread speculation that the dense haze from land and forest fires in the area could have contributed to the disaster.

The government, which maintains that the haze is a natural disaster which nobody could have prevented, has been criticised at home and abroad for its handling of the fires.

Indeed, the crash has raised the ire of many people here, with several public figures calling on Mr Haryanto and Mr Djamaluddin to resign.

They said the Transport Minister should accept responsibility for the air crash, while the Forestry Minister should quit for having failed to prevent the widespread forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“Both of them have to resign,” said Mr Amin Arjoso, vice-chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The resignation culture is a concrete form of taking responsibility.”

Mr Muhammad Buang, from the Muslim-based United Development Party, said Mr Haryanto should resign as he had failed in his duties to prevent many fatal transport accidents over the last five years.

The Indonesian Democratic Party’s Datuk Anwar said Mr Haryanto had failed to put in place proper manpower and equipment in the transport sector.

The Indonesian Observer argued in an editorial that “this latest crash should be taken as another sign that, as a nation, we do not consider seriously enough the requirements of safety, and that this light-heartedness coupled with management deficiencies can in fact create disasters of the first magnitude”.

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