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Indonesia to Send More Troops to Battle Forest Fires

A member of the military works to contain a wildfire on a field in Indralaya, South Sumatra, Indonesia, Sept. 16, 2015.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered his military to deploy more soldiers to extinguish forest fires that are threatening thousands of acres and throwing up a haze across the region.

Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anun told reporters that more than 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to four provinces on the islands of Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo.

"A Cabinet meeting is scheduled Wednesday on the topic. The president has ordered the military commander to deploy more soldiers to the affected areas," he said.

He added that the president had ordered the police to enforce the heaviest penalties against individuals or corporations found to be responsible for starting the blazes.

The chief of police, General Bardodin Haiti, said guilty corporations could face blacklisting and legal action.

"There are [at least] 127 individuals named as suspects, while for corporations, there are 10 of them," he said. "If they are sentenced only for a year [in jail], it won't have a deterrent effect. If the corporations are put on the blacklist, it will serve as a deterrent because their requests for permits will be denied permanently."

He added that legal action could also be taken against company officers or shareholders.

Indonesia faces a nearly annual battle against forest fires, many set by deliberately companies trying to clear forests to create farms and palm oil plantations.

The fires, which are spewing smoke across Singapore and parts of Malaysia, are located in four provinces; South Sumatra and Riau on Sumatra and Borneo's Central and West Kalimantan.

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