INDONESIA: Foreign palm oil plantations blamed for forest fires

Forest fires on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan have led the Government to declare a 'national disaster'. Officials have stated that managers of palm oil plantations are suspected of being behind many of the fires.

Indonesian Environment Minister Sonny Keraf confirmed that the situation is serious and several Indonesian newspapers have reported that the Government is considering revoking licenses if specific companies are found to have started the fires.

The Jakarta Post quoted Keraf as saying that: “The President asked us to summon the companies. We will take punitive action against them, revoking their licenses if necessary, if there is enough evidence.”

Fires on the two islands last provoked political concern last August (see related story), but the real fear is that the fires will become as large as those that caused widespread haze over Singapore and Malaysia in 1997.

Several Malaysian-led palm oil plantation joint ventures are active in Indonesia and it is these companies that are the chief suspects in the fires.

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