Haeril Halim, Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Pekanbaru/Jambi | Headlines | Mon, March 03 2014, 9:05 AM
Singapore has demanded Indonesia provide evidence for claims made by Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono that companies from the city state were responsible for the ongoing haze in Sumatra.
“The government of Singapore takes a serious view of these allegations,” a spokesman for Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said as quoted by The Strait Times on Sunday.
“If there is credible evidence that Singapore-linked companies or Singaporeans were involved, the government of Singapore intends to take further steps against these errant companies and individuals.”
The remarks in question were made by Agung on Thursday after a Cabinet meeting.
Since last year, the police in Riau have launched 41 investigations against companies and individuals that may be involved in slash-and-burn practices in Sumatra.
Agung said that the police had named 25 suspects including people from Indonesian palm oil companies and some “from Malaysia and Singapore”, adding that some of the suspects were currently on trial.
The Singapore’s MFA said that, during last June’s severe haze that saw pollutant levels over Singapore reach record highs, Agung and other officials had implied that Singapore companies were to blame. But subsequent investigations did not see any Singapore-linked companies or Singaporeans named as suspects.
Earlier on Saturday, the MFA said it hoped the ongoing fires in Riau and other parts of Sumatra would be “quickly dealt with to prevent a recurrence of the trans-boundary haze”. “We also urge the government of Indonesia to take the necessary legal and enforcement action against errant companies or individuals, regardless of their nationality,” it said.
As of Sunday, 8,000 hectares of forests and peatland in Sumatra was ablaze, giving off the haze that has blanketed Riau for the past month.
Riau province declared a state of emergency on Thursday as the haze had disrupted flights and marine navigation and authorities reported a sharp rise in respiratory problems.
Authorities have detected at least 953 hotspots, which have caused low visibility in Riau in the morning.
The Riau field and forest fire mitigation task force detected 43 priority hotspots that needed to be extinguished, 15 are located in concession areas belonging to the subsidiaries and partners of Sinar Mas Forestry and Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd. (APRIL).
Of the 15 hotspots in concession areas, three were found in PT Arara Abadi’s area; four in PT Rimba Rokan Lestari; four in PT Sakato Pratama Makmur; three in PT Tobe Indah; and another in PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP).
“The rest are spread in open access areas — former concession areas illegally cleared by local communities,” the task force commander Brig. Gen. Prihadi Agus Irianto said in Pekanbaru on Saturday.
Separately, Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono said his office was investigating the alleged involvement of seven companies in the fires in their respective concession areas.
“We have brought in experts from the Bogor Institute of Technology to determine if the fires were deliberate,” said Condro, the task force’s deputy chairman.
Meanwhile, Sinar Mas Forestry over the weekend gave clarification that the fires in its partner’s area in Bengkalis were the result of fires started by locals in the neighboring open access area.
“It’s true that there was a hotspot in the community dispute area inside the company’s concession area, but our rapid response unit has put it out,” PT RAPP president director Kusnan Rahmin said on Sunday.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said that fire had approached residential areas in Riau province, forcing the deployment of fire engines.
“Firefighters have been deployed to make sure that the fire does not reach local neighborhoods,” BNPB head Sutopo Purwonugroho told The Jakarta Post.
The haze has so far caused 20,000 people to suffer from acute respiratory infection disease (ISPA) in Riau, while the total area engulfed by fires reached 7,972 hectares as of Sunday.