Indonesian president orders crackdown on land burners

Riau province chokes in haze from forest fires
Indonesian president orders crackdown on land burners

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyo visits haze-stricken Rimbo Panjang village in Riau province on March 15

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday called for swift punishment for those burning land in haze-stricken Riau province.

The president visited Pekanbaru, the provincial capital, on Saturday and toured several of the region’s hotspots that have been engulfed by severe haze for the past month, as a result of ongoing forest and plantation fires.

“We must give shock therapy to irresponsible people who bother society’s daily life … because of their irresponsible actions,” Yudhoyono said.

This was foillowed on Monday by a strongly worded statement on the president’s Twitter account.

"The president has emphasized the importance of strict and indiscriminate legal enforcement. Light punishment for forest arson must be evaluated," the president tweeted on his account @SBYudhoyono.

The Jakarta Post reported on Sunday that National Police Chief Sutarman issued a “shoot on sight” order for those engaged in land burning who resisted arrest.

“If the offenders resist arrest or harm other people, just shoot them,” Sutarman said.

Yudhoyono also called for an integrated emergency response to combat the haze, which has disrupted flight patterns, forced evacuations, halted palm oil production and caused widespread respiratory ailments.

The haze has been coming from plantation and forest fies, which were mostly deliberately set to illegally clear land for farming and planting, reported Antara, the Indonesian national news agency.

The president told members of the Haze Disaster Mitigation Task Force that their short term goal was to extinguish the fires, but that they should also focus on providing affected people with health care and enforcing the law.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency that is heading the task force, said that so far fires have been extinguished on 15,837 out of total 19,538 hectares of land.

“[We] keep putting out fires from both the land and the air by water bombing,” he told ucanews.com.

Sutopo also said that as a result of the haze, there has been 41,589 reported cases of respiratory infections, 1,544 asthma, 1,385 eye infections, 2,084 skin irritations, and 862 pneumonia.

He said at least 60 people have been named by local police as suspects in land burning. 

Meanwhile, Zenzi Suhadi, a forest and plantation campaign manager at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, lamented what he called Yudhoyono’s late response.

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“We do hope he reviews all permits and revokes those that have been given to corporations proven guilty of burning the land,” he told ucanews.com.

Suhadi said that not one of the 117 corporations involved in land burning last year were charged or faced trials.

“Those arrested were farmers. Corporations were never touched,” he said.

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