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Wednesday, February 11, 1998 Published at 16:23 GMT



Despatches
image: [ BBC Correspondent: Simon Ingram ]Simon Ingram
Indonesia

Forest and brush fires are again burning in parts of Indonesia, raising fears of a repeat of the conflagration that devastated some two-million hectares of land last year. One of the worst-affected areas is the province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. Satellite images of the area have shown as many as three-hundred separate fires, the majority of them started deliberately. Our South East Asia correspondent, Simon Ingram, reports from the town of Samarinda in East Kalimantan.

The drive north towards Samarinda is a desolate experience. In many places the lush jungle has disappeared, blackened grass and leafless trees are all that remain.

Intermittently, plumes of grey smoke rise from smouldering fires, some of them from underground coal and peat seams, that were lit months ago. Not far from the town the stiff breeze blowing in from the sea had whipped the flames into an inferno.

Trees, bushes and the remains of a banana plantation were fiercely ablaze, sending flames high into the sky, and sparks flying across the main road. The only person on the scene was the peasant farmer who'd lit the fire some hours earlier, to clear the way, he said, for him to plant more crops.

The authorities say that for the most part it's bigger palm oil companies who are responsible for the latest wave of destruction. The effects of the fires have been massively amplified by a drought which has left much of Kalimantan without rain for up to three months.

A drought blamed in turn on the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon. Further north, huge swathes of the Kutai National Park are burning, threatening apes, iguanas and other wildlife.

In spite of the pledges of action made by the Indonesian government last year to reassure those of its neighbours who endured months of airborne pollution, there is little evidence of concerted campaign to halt the fires, and every sign that the region is going to suffer all over again.





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