Forest fires worsen, five detained

EoF News / 21 August 2006

Inconvenience due to poor visibility and unhealthy condition caused by polluted haze alarmed South East Asia region again as forest fires raging in Sumatra –including Riau—and Kalimantan islands.

Inconvenience suffered by residents in terms of activity and health occur as choked haze worsened in several parts of the province including Pekanbaru since the middle of August. The visibility on Tuesday morning (Aug 22) in the capital is around 50 meter where thick haze obscured the scenery.

Reports said residents complained that their health disturbed by such poor air quality caused by the haze pollution.

EoF learns from WWF’s GIS Unit monitor that number of hotspots found on Aug 1-14 is soaring highly to 2,133 hotspots where Aug 8-14 showed the most hotspots detected by 1,336. During Jul 1-14 hotspots found in Riau was only 112.

By location, Industrial Timber Plantation (HTI) concession has 412 hotspots on Aug 8-14, and oil palm plantation with 190. The overlap between HTI and oil palm plantation is 6 hotspots and other areas 740. While unidentified timber companies contributed to 191, APRIL associated pulp mill 132, APP 69, and “no information” group 20.

AFP reported said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak argued that the responsibility over forest fire in Sumatra and Kalimantan is placed on Jakarta’s shoulders.

"As far as we are concerned, there is not much that we can do about the Indonesian fires," Najib was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times. "Our ability to resolve the problem will largely depend on the determination of the Indonesian government to address the matter. This will be our major challenge."

Pekanbaru Pos daily reported Tuesday that five perpetrators of open burning were apprehended by the police in Pelalawan district last weekend after they were caught burning land of concession belongs to Siak Raya Timber company, inside the proposed Tesso Nilo National Park’s extension.

Report said the five culprits are workers from West Nusa Tenggara (Lombok island) and South Sumatra provinces. They were hired by Sinaga, who allegedly aide of A Seng, a Pekanbaru-based timber baron.

The Riau Government held a meeting discussing forest fires before deploying several squads last weekend including a team of Royal Air Force (TNI AU) to extinguish the fires in some sites including Tesso Nilo National Forest, where encroachment and open burning massively occurred nowadays.

The meeting recommended several points in tackling forest fires issues. The provincial government, again, pledged to take stern measure against open burning perpetrators. Khairul Zainal, head of Riau environmental impact management agency, said the authority would detain three groups whom highly suspected to burn land and forest in conservation areas.

They are sawmill owners and laborers, people who encroach and clear land for plantation, and financial backers who hire person to burn the forest and land.

Khairul Zainal said Tesso Nilo National Park is closed for public and police and Air Force squad were deployed to the area where more than 1,000 hectares burned due to illicit encroachment.

Riau Vice Governor, who concurrently in charge of head of forest fire mitigation agency, Wan Abu Bakar, said the central government supported Riau government in tackling forest fires by embracing the Supreme Court to process the legal action. Besides, Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) is prepared to set up quick force and facilitate experts for probing forest and land fires lawsuit.