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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 18:09 GMT
Indonesia's fires: Who's to blame ?
Some firms flout the ban on 'slash-and-burn'
By Chandrika Deshpande

Some of the most powerful logging companies in Indonesia stand accused of causing the forest fires, which have left large parts of south-east Asia blanketed in thick haze for the third year running.

Water hose
The authorities need help in arresting those responsible

Environmentalists and government officials say that the slash-and-burn methods of logging companies and large plantations are continuing, despite a government ban.

The government says it has used satellite data to identify about ten companies responsible for the large number of fires sweeping across Sumatra.

Masked Indonesian child
The number of hospital admissions has risen
The question now is, what action is it willing to take?

Indonesia's Environment Minister, Soni Keraf, said the government was planning to take serious action against the companies involved, once it had gathered enough evidence against them.

Ethical policy

There are also plans to set up an environmental task force to investigate the latest outbreak of fires, with the co-operation of the police, the forestry department and local government.

Companies found guilty of starting fires risk having their operating licences revoked.

Last year, Asian countries in the regional group Asean adopted a zero-burning policy designed to control the kind of environmental damage and pollution caused by the 1997 crisis.

But Asean is severely limited by its core principle of non-interference in the affairs of its neighbours, even though they too stand to be affected by environmental problems on the scale of Indonesia's.

There has also been talk of ethical purchasing within the region, to ensure that those buying Indonesia's profitable exports, such as tropical timber and palm oil, take a stand on how such goods are produced.

Even though this proposal is not a substitute for government action, it can, at least, put environmental concerns on the agenda.

Powerful law-breakers

Unlike in 1997, Indonesia cannot blame freak weather conditions such as El Nino for the spread of the forest fires.

Fire in Indonesia
The fires cannot be blamed on freak weather conditions l
Observers agree that the government has the will to address the situation.

But after years of corrupt and weak local government, Indonesia's ability to enforce its own laws appears limited against the powerful firms responsible for the blazes.
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10 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Sumatra's forests ablaze
03 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Forest fires rage in Sumatra
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