Chinese and Malaysian companies among suspects for Indonesian fires that have spread choking haze across Southeast Asia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 6:12pm

Malaysian and Chinese companies are among suspects for causing Indonesian forest fires that have spread haze pollution across Southeast Asia.

Twelve companies and 209 individuals are suspected of causing the blazes, with a Singaporean company also under investigation, Badrodin Haiti, Indonesia’s chief of police, said in Jakarta. Haiti didn’t name the companies.

"They broke the law for burning," said Haiti, adding the maximum punishments were jail terms of 10 years and fines of as much as 10 billion rupiah (US$746,000).

Indonesia and Singapore in September named companies that were potentially responsible for forest fires on Sumatra and Borneo, with four palm oil and paper firms having their permits revoked or frozen. Indonesia has laws banning the burning of forests, yet enforcement so far has been limited in a sprawling archipelago with overlapping land rights, widespread corruption and decentralized government.

"Companies are not disciplined in following the rules, therefore causing these severe fires," said Luhut Panjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for law and security.

Indonesia has accepted fire-fighting help from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Australia, after dry weather caused by El Nino means the government is unlikely to meet a two-week target to stop the haze, Panjaitan said. Indonesia hopes the use of more fire fighting aircraft will reduce the pollution in the next few days, he said.

On a two-day visit to Jakarta, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged to help Indonesia fight the forest fires blanketing Southeast Asia in haze as foreign aircraft joined operations to douse the blazes.

“We consider the haze a serious issue as it’s a burden to Malaysians and Indonesians,” Najib said Sunday.

“Malaysia is prepared to increase our assistance in dousing the fires. The areas affected are widespread so certainly the challenges are very big.”

A Malaysian CL415 Bombardier capable of scooping up to six tonnes of water from the sea, and a Singaporean Chinook helicopter which can pour water from a huge hanging bucket, were among the 10 aircraft used for water-bombing in South Sumatra province.

Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse