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The BBC's Richard Galpin in Jakarta
"It is feared the fires could be the worst ever"
 real 28k

Monday, 13 March, 2000, 12:29 GMT
Indonesia gets tough over fires

Residents have been issued with masks
By Richard Galpin in Jakarta

The Indonesian Government has suspended the business licences of several plantation companies in Sumatra which are accused of being responsible for the forest fires.

Environmentalists in Sumatra say almost all the fires which broke out at the beginning of this month were started deliberately by these companies.

It is a traditional method to clear more land for cultivation and used every year.

But since the disastrous fires of 1997 which covered much of south east Asia in smog, burning has been made illegal - vat least in theory.

Now though the government has taken action by suspending the licences of four companies.


Rain has helped the firefighters
A spokesman for the Indonesian Forestry Ministry said one of the companies had Malaysian owners, an embarrassment for Kuala Lumpur which has often complained about the smog from Indonesia.

Investigators are now collecting evidence to bring court cases against the companies which could be prosecuted either under forestry or environmental laws.

But it remains questionable whether the government will really succeed in securing convictions with appropriate punishments.

Environmentalists in Sumatra say to date, very few companies have been successfully prosecuted.

Whilst the situation has now improved in Sumatra after several days of rain, reports from West Kalimantan say fires there have caused dangerous levels of pollution.

Government officials are now handing out masks to the local population to protect them from the smog.

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See also:

10 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia's fires: Who's to blame ?
10 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Sumatra's forests ablaze
10 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Indonesia: A smoky Eden
03 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Forest fires rage in Sumatra
08 Apr 98 | Haze 98
Battle to break the blaze
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