More arrests as govt provides Rp100 billion to fight forest fires

More arrests as govt provides Rp100 billion to fight forest fires

28 June 2013

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Indonesia: With more people being arrested for allegedly burning land in Riau, the central government has allocated Rp 100 billion (US$10 million) to fight forest fires in the province.

Law enforcement division chief of the Riau Haze Task Force, Sr. Comr. Agus Sofyan Abadi, said on Thursday that four people were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly burning land.

He added that 10 others were arrested from Sunday to Tuesday, leading to a total of 14 arrests in the first week of the haze emergency period.

Agus, also Riau Police deputy chief, said the suspects were local residents and were mostly paid by other people to burn bushes to expand farmland.

Based on interviews with the four, the police named five others — who were still on the run — as suspects.

“The number of suspects could still increase depending on our investigation,” Agus said at the task force’s command post at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base.

The suspects are charged with Law No. 32/2002 on the environment and Articles 187 and 188 of the Criminal Code on arson and negligence causing fire. They may face between three and 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of Rp 10 billion.

Agus said the police had yet to name any suspects in firms suspected of burning land.

“We are still studying the case with investigators from the Environment Ministry. We will investigate all cases involving both individuals and companies,” he said.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said he had received a report from the National Police on the 14 suspects.

“Among the 14 [suspects], 11 burned areas are covered by forest concessions and oil palm plantations. We still must prove whether the suspects are affiliated with the companies,” Zulkifli said in Jakarta, declining to identify the implicated firms.

The number of hot spots in Riau dropped to two on Thursday, from six on Wednesday, 55 on Tuesday and 263 on Monday.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) will deploy additional aircraft to water-bomb burning peatland and prevent fires from reigniting, said deputy head for emergency relief Dody Ruswandi at the task force post.

In addition to two Russian-made Kamov helicopters that can carry 5,000 liters of water per sortie, the BNPB would also charter two specialized airplanes capable of shooting pressurized water and penetrating the peat base, he added.

“But it takes time to mobilize the aircraft. Two helicopters will arrive in Pekanbaru in six days because they are still working in Papua New Guinea,” he said, adding the two airplanes would arrive in two weeks.

The agency plans to use additional aircraft to expand its forest fire-fighting efforts to the other provinces of Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central, West, South and East Kalimantan provinces.

“The seven other provinces also have a history of forest fires. We cannot let our guard down,” Dody said.

“We will mitigate forest fires during the extreme dry season from July to October. This will be the peak for hot spots to appear.”

Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono said the government would use Rp 100 billion to rent water-bombing equipment from South Korea and Russia.

He said despite offers from Singapore and Malaysia to help extinguish the fires, Indonesia had more than adequate equipment and funds to extinguish the flames.

“We welcome any cooperation and offers of support but we are capable of handling the fires ourselves,” he told reporters after a ministerial coordinating meeting.

Separately, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged local communities and corporations to team up with the government to combat forest burning — saying that without willingness from local residents and the private sector, the government’s effort to stop illegal land clearing would encounter difficulties.

Speaking at a workshop on deforestation held by the US-based Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, Yudhoyono said despite the fact Indonesia was equipped with an early warning system to detect hotspots in forest areas, the government would not be able to prevent such fires if companies and local communities did not comply with the country’s regulatory framework.

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