AUG 30, 2016 7:22 AM PDT

Police arrest 454 individuals for spreading fires in Indonesia

On Thursday Indonesia’s newly appointed police chief Tito Karnavian said police had prepared cases against 454 individuals in connection with burning land. “The arrests of individuals has increased compared with last year,” he said in Jakarta. “Just in Riau [province] 85 people have been arrested.”

On Friday evening, the 24-hour pollutant standards index, a measure of air quality, was in the unhealthy range in four of the five areas measured by Singapore’s environment agency. In parts of Sumatra, local authorities were assembling makeshift shelters as a precautionary measure to care for people with health problems. More than half a million Indonesians were diagnosed with respiratory illnesses during the 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis.

An Indonesian soldier and volunteers try to extinguish a fire in a peatland in Rimbo Long. Photo: www.newsnish.com

A spokesperson for the social agency in Rokan Hilir regency, in Jambi province, said 63 residents from 13 families had already moved to the shelter. “This is because they can’t stand the haze from the disaster of wildfires in the area,” said Misnawati.

Fires in West Kalimantan continued to burn on Friday as Indonesian television broadcast footage of local residents joining firefighters attempting to extinguish a blaze just 30 meters form a housing complex in Pontianak. Low visibility around the provincial capital’s airport disrupted several flights this week.

Both the Malaysian and Singaporean governments have offered air assets to assist Indonesian firefighting efforts as the dry season peaks in September. Disaster management officials and local volunteers continued to work on Friday to extinguish the increasing number of fires. Six Indonesian provinces — Central Kalimantan, Jambi, Riau, South Kalimantan, South Sumatra and West Kalimantan — have declared emergency statuses in order to draw on greater disaster-management resources.

A resident tries to put out a bush fire with a tree branch in Pekanbaru. Photo: www.straitstimes.com

The head of the police’s criminal investigation division, Ari Dono Sukmanto, said he expected the number of arrests to rise in the coming months. Indonesian environment minster Siti Nurbaya called on police to “investigate thoroughly” for any links to companies and local government officials.

While there has been a marked increase in the number of individuals arrested this year compared with 2015, concerns remain among local environmental NGOs over police capacity and commitment to enforce the law against allegedly errant companies.

Environmental NGOs say that police are not using the full extent of the existing legal framework, emphasizing that the law gives police sufficient latitude to prosecute companies for negligence in failing to prevent a fire on a concession. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) is responding by preparing a pre-trial suit against the decision to terminate the investigations. 

The following video highlights the issue of Indonesia's fires since 2015. 
 
This article has been republished from Mongabay News. It may have been cut or reorganized for publication purposes.

Sources: Mongabay News, Rueters, Efe, Straits Times
About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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