Smoke caused by forest and land burning in Central Kalimantan. (Photo supplied)
Indonesian authorities have sealed off land belonging to 64 palm oil companies, five of which are suspected of deliberately starting forest and peat fires that have caused choking haze across the region.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry said 20 firms are owned by foreign corporations and that three Malaysian and two Singaporean companies were named suspects after authorities found hotspots on their land.
The ministry’s law enforcement chief, Rasio Ridho Sani, said the other foreign companies were being investigated.
He said firms that flout the law, regardless of their country of origin, will be punished and their directors could face prison terms of up to 12 years.
“Whoever commits land crimes by causing forest fires must be held responsible,” Ridho said.
He said the authorities are hunting down companies that have burned their lands and will force them to pay for what they have done.
Divine Word Father Frans Sani Lake, director of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Kalimantan, said he hoped Ridho would be true to his word.
Forest or peat fires will continue to happen unless there is stringent law enforcement against the perpetrators, he said.
“It’s not so much a question of how many companies were sealed off, but how law enforcement is implemented upon them,” he told ucanews.com. “Forest burning follows the same pattern, by the same perpetrators, in the same locations.”
Indonesian law prohibits the burning of forests and the government must use the law and related regulations to punish the companies directly, the priest said.
Rusmadya Maharuddin, of Greenpeace Indonesia, welcomed the government’s latest move.
“We hope that law enforcement is seriously and transparently applied to them because previously the government only sealed off their land and didn’t continue with further legal measures,” he told ucanews.com.
“The government must strictly punish them with prison sentences, fines and by revoking their licenses. If not forest burning will continue, which will mean dire consequences not only for the environment but also for many people.”
According to Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, there were about 45,200 fires detected this month, up from 27,212 during the same period last year.