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Indonesia Intensifies Crackdown on Companies Starting Forest Fires

  • Andy Lala

Fire fighters spray water to extinguish wildfires in Pekanbaru, Riau province, Indonesia, Feb. 27, 2014.
The Indonesian National Police (POLRI), along with the Ministry of Environment, say they are continuing a crackdown on plantation companies that burn forests and cause serious smog.

National Police Chief General Sutarman asserted Wednesday that the police took action against three companies accused of burning the forests in their land clearing efforts.

“Whoever [is] doing the forest fires that causes air pollution will be arrested. There are elements of deliberate intent by the offenders," he said. "So far we have found that offenders have come from both the plantation companies and the communities.”

He added that 25 people are being investigated. He also stressed the Indonesian police are committed to ensuring enforcement for all involved.

Earlier, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono criticized the “handling of the haze as not being fully resolved.” The president said authorities must deal firmly with anyone found negligent in contributing to the disaster.

"Actually, the government, both the central and local authorities, has worked to overcome the problems, but not all have been fully resolved," said the president. "Frankly, I would say that the situation is still not good."

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) says starting fires to clear land is still common on the island of Sumatra.

The agency’s Head of Data Information and Public Relations, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said in a press release Wednesday that satellite observations show 145 hotspots in Riau Province.

Dense smoke from the forest fires has reduced visibility to only 200 meters in some places. The smoke is also causing air quality problems in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

Air quality problems in previous years have drawn complaints from Indonesia's neighbors.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Indonesian service.