Indonesia — Riaus top leader today gave an assurance that the provincial Government would act aggressively to put out fires which have been blazing in some 20,000 hectares of forests in the province over the last two weeks.
Riau Governor Rusli Zainal said the Indonesian army, police, firefighters and non-governmental organisations were already in the affected areas.
Special teams known as Fire-Fighting Co-ordination Squads have been set up in each of Riaus 11 districts.
This underscored the Riau Governments commitment in tackling the problem, he added.
Rusli, however, said unlike most of the previous incidents in the region where the fires were started deliberately, the blazes this time were caused by peat fires.
“The region is experiencing a severe drought at this point, and with peat soil covering most areas, fires such as this can be triggered at any time,” he said when met at the Malay and Islamic World Secretariat (DMDI) seminar here today.
Rusli is the deputy president of the Malacca-based secretariat set up in 2000 with the aim of providing aforum for the global Malay and Muslim community.
Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali Rustam is currently DMDI president.
The authorities have reported the detection of more than 100 hotspots in satellite images in Riau.
The forest fires are reportedly spreading fast, with the affected area doubling in size in a matter of only three weeks.
This has brought about fears that prevailing southwest monsoon winds may carry the thick smoke across the Straits of Malacca, enveloping parts of Malaysia with another round of haze.
Rusli himself was not optimistic that another haze episode could be averted.
“We have had problems putting out the fires as the hotspots are deep in the forests, areas which are difficult to move into, but we are doing all we can.”
Rusli said the Riau Government would act against plantation owners or individuals who deliberately set fires to clear their land.
“We have taken action in the past, including charging the culprits in court, some of whom were jailed or received heftyfines.”