Indonesia: Fire Investigation Widens

Fire Investigation Widens

(Source: The Jakarta Post, July 07, 2004 )

By Abdul Khalik and P.C. Naommy 

Jakarta – The police announced on Tuesday that they were seeking two more suspects and investigating around 10 companies in connection with forest fires that aggravated the haze shrouding parts of Sumatra island and neighbouring countries recently.

Director of the National Police specific crimes division Brig. Gen. Suharto said, based on the interrogation of first suspect AS, police were now looking for Nainggolan and Simatupang, who were believed to have started forest fires.

“We hope we can arrest them soon. They can give information on who else was involved in the forest fires besides AS,” Suharto said.

AS, director of a plantation company in Minas district, Riau, was detained and taken to Jakarta recently by a team consisting of officers from the National Police, the Office of the State Ministry of the Environment and the prosecutor’s office.

The team said that AS had ordered two men to clear hundreds of hectares of land by burning the vegetation there. 

Suharto explained police were investigating around 10 plantation companies allegedly involved in causing the fires in several locations in Riau province.

He said that the organizations were mostly pulp companies, which had cleared thousands of hectares of forest to plant trees to produce pulp. He declined to mention the names of any of the companies.

Head of the Riau Environmental Impact Management Agency (BAPEDALDA) Khairul Zaenal said recently that land clearance through burning had also occurred around other giant plantation companies in the area, such as PT Multi Gambut Industri, PT Raja Garuda Mas and PT Sari Lembah Subur.

“We are still investigating them. Soon, we shall announce the results. We believe that more people are involved in the matter,” said Suharto.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Forestry sent several officials on Friday to Pekanbaru, Riau, to monitor the current situation in the field. “It’s still ongoing; we don’t know the details yet, but the situation in Riau is under control now,” said Masyhud, head of the Data Analysis Center of the ministry on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, ministry officials also visited locations affected by fire in plantation areas in Perdana, South Pontianak, and at transmigration areas in Rasau subdistrict, West Kalimantan province. 
As of July 5, the ministry had identified a total of 896 forests and plantation hot spots in West Kalimantan province, with 321 of the hot spots in forested areas. Masyhud said that the number could be higher since many of the hot spots could not be captured by the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, due to cloud cover and their small size.

According to Masyhud, the hot spots in the plantations in West Kalimantan occupied less than 0.15 hectares, the minimum coverage observable by the NOAA satellite.

“This is dangerous, because these kinds of hot spots are scattered throughout the island but we cannot monitor them because they are out of the satellite’s reach,” said Masyhud.

He added the governor of West Kalimantan had started a fire prevention initiative to keep the fires from worsening.

The initiative, inaugurated on Tuesday, will focus on several activities, such as hot spot monitoring, extinguishing fires and a public awareness program on the dangers of the slash-and-burn method. 

Masyhud also lamented that the Ministry of Agriculture appeared negligent, even though most fires occurred in plantation areas.

“The ministry (of agriculture) hasn’t taken any action to control the occurrence of fires in the plantations; neither has it allocated special funds for fire prevention,” said Masyhud.


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