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Friday, February 20, 1998 Published at 08:29 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Borneo ablaze
image: [ Borneo is on fire again just months after it shrouded the region in smoke ]
Borneo is on fire again just months after it shrouded the region in smoke

Listen to BBC Correspondent Matt Frei's report from the forest fires in Borneo
Five months after its forest fires engulfed South East Asia in smog, the Indonesian island of Borneo is ablaze again.

Hundreds of forest fires are burning in one of the island's major national parks, forcing locals and animals to flee. Smoke from the fires is so thick it is also disrupting flights.

[ image:  ]
According to the BBC's correspondent, some of the fires are the result of a prolonged drought which has left the rainforest area bone dry and ripe for ignition.

But most are probably the work of farmers and plantation owners taking advantage of the dry spell to clear vast areas of protected land cheaply by burning.

[ image:  ]
The problem has been exacerbated by the economic crisis in the country which has inhibited the response of firefighting services.

They have to make their way to the fires using machetes and, without water, beat the flames.

Poor people have also began cutting down trees to sell, clearing even more land.

[ image:  ]
The devastation caused by the fires has been so complete in some areas that animals have been forced to flee to search for food.

Orang-utans have even taken to "ambushing" local people and tourists to steal food to survive.

Conservationists believe the damage is permanent.

If the wind changes, the haze is likely to drift towards Singapore and Malaysia, threatening to blanket the region again.

[ image:  ]
Ron Lilley of the World Wide Fund for Nature said: "The young of many mammals and birds, smaller mammals and birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, they'll get fried in the fires."

"Poor people, rich, greedy people everybody will be there to make use of the opportunity.

"Poor people because they have to live. They want to make sure they have something to eat the next day," said Sarwano Kusumaatmadja, Indonesian Environmental Minister.

"Rich people because they have to recoup their losses," he said.

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