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The BBC's Richard Galpin
"Plantation owners have been blamed"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 11:00 GMT
Sumatra fires 'national disaster'
Fires
Fears of an environmental disaster are increasing
Indonesia's Environment Minister Soni Keraf has called raging forest fires on the island of Sumatra "a national disaster".

The country has also warned logging companies that they could be forced out if they are found to be responsible.

Hundreds of fires are currently blazing through forests in Sumatra's Riau province and in West Kalimantan.

There are fears that the region will see a repeat of 1997 environmental catastrophe, when several south-east Asian countries were enveloped in a choking smog. Sumatra also suffered from fires and smog in 1998.

Singapore has so reported slight haze from this year's fires.


If mistakes are found, licences will be revoked

Soni Keraf, Environment Minister
Plantation owners and logging companies have been accused of clearing land illegally to make way for more palm, rubber and coconut trees.

Mr Keraf said the authorities are investigating the allegations, adding that logging companies could lose their licences if it is proved they started the fires deliberately.

"[The government] will summon owners of logging and plantation companies for investigation. If mistakes are found, their licences will be revoked," Mr Keraf said.

Dangerous levels

Ardi Yusuf of the Sumatran Environmental Supervisory Agency's forestry division, said the agency has video tape of fires in plantations.

"The fires were in palm plantations owned by two foreign companies. The companies were the same ones behind the firsts in 1998," he said.

Local people said Riau province, close to Singapore, was the worst hit. In Riau's capital, Pekanbaru, dangerously high levels of smog have cast a choking veil over the town.

They said visibility was at 500 metres during the daytime.

Tests have shown the pollution index at 313. A reading of more than 300 is considered dangerous to health, while a normal level is less than 50.

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See also:

03 Mar 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Forest fires rage in Sumatra
25 Feb 98 |  Analysis
Haze - who starts the fires?
13 Apr 98 |  Asia-Pacific
Brunei chokes in thick smoke haze
26 Feb 98 |  Analysis
Haze - what can be done?
01 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Return of the Asian haze
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