Riau Governor warns to prosecute forest fire perpetrators

EoF News / 30 July 2006

Forest fires escalated in Riau province where two protected forests set ablaze and thick haze suffered the province areas in recent days. More hotspots detected and the haze spilled over neighboring countries, reports said.

Riau Governor Rusli Zainal and provincial officials conducted a meeting in weekend responding reports on escalating forest fires as thick haze blanketed several areas in the province, Riauterkini.com reported.

The governor ordered district officials to make efforts to stop the fires which caused much damage. The governor warned to apprehend perpetrators of fires, and annul land suffered by fires as a “status quo” plot preventing the holders or owners to use them any longer.

"This disaster is the top priority of Riau as well as the nation because its effects are also felt by neighboring countries," he said in a report carried by Media Indonesia Online Saturday. Rusli said the Riau provincial government would take legal action against those who caused the fires, whether they be individuals or plantations.

Haze blanketed Pekanbaru, Riau province’s capital, and several districts forcing thousands to wear masks and postpone several flights from and to Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport on Friday. The visibility in Pekanbaru was less than 50 meters, while in along Siak River is 25 m.

Riau Province Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bappedalda) said 1,500 hectares of Mahato protection forest in Rokan Hulu district as well as Tesso Nilo forest park in Pelalawan, Kampar and Indragiri Hulu districts are encroached and burned down by perpetrators, Kompas daily reported Sunday (Jul. 30).

Head of Bappedalda, Khairul Zainal, said people are mobilized by brokers to slash and burn forest before the areas are sold to certain barons. A village head and sub-district head in Rokan Hilir were detained by the police for allegedly counterfeiting land ownership certificates (SKT) for encroachers, reports said.

Over 130 fire "hotspots" have been detected in Riau province in the last few days, affecting some 3,000 hectares of land, The Jakarta Post reported Monday.

Nursiwan Taqwim, head of the Sumatra Regional Center for Environmental Management, said forest fires occurred mostly in Pelawan, Rokan Hilir and Rokan Hulu regencies.

"Most of the blazes were started by local residents converting forest into plantations," The Jakarta Post quoted as saying.

Responding to allegation saying Indonesia “exported” haze to neighboring countries, Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban said in a radio interview Sunday that not all of the haze came from Indonesia.

At least 82 forest-based companies have set up an agreement in Pekanbaru on May 10 with Minister for Environment, Minister of Forestry, and Agriculture Minister for not using slash-and-burn method for land clearing.