Indonesia arrests 230 for starting fires in forests

Firefighters battling a forest fire in Indonesia. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Indonesia has arrested 230 people for starting fires in forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan, The Straits Times (ST) reported today.

Smoke from burning forests, brought by the south-westerly monsoon winds, have been blamed for choking haze in Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand and central Philippines.

Indonesian national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo on Wednesday also named the operational director of a south Sumatra-based company as a suspect. He said companies had been negligent in ensuring such fires don’t break out.

ST reported that under Indonesian law, the suspects could be prosecuted and jailed for a maximum 10 years for setting fires to clear land.

Last week, Indonesia had sealed off portions of plantations operated by 42 companies, including subsidiaries of four Malaysian groups and a Singapore-affiliated firm, after fires on their concessions.

The news report said Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency carried out cloud-seeding operations on Wednesday in Riau, north Sumatra and central Kalimantan.

About 14,000 people are battling the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Many of these hotspots are underground peat fires which smoulder for weeks and can only be extinguished by heavy rain.

Indonesia has been using 52 helicopters for water bombing every day since the forest fires started a month ago.

ST said Indonesia’s weather forecast agency BMKG had predicted heavy rainfall in the next seven days in Aceh, north Sumatra, north Kalimantan (northern coastal areas) and Papua.

The agency said the number of hotspots across Asean had declined in the Sept 15-17 period, reaching 3,082. On Sept 14, there were still 5,115 hot spots in Indonesia.