There will be no compromise."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Tens of companies have allegedly practiced slash-and-burns to open plantations in Sumatra`s Riau, causing forest fires that send blankets of smoke not only to the province itself but also to neighboring countries, Singapore and Malaysia.

It was reported on Saturday (June 22) that a joint team from the ministry of environment and other relevant ministries had found at least 20 domestic and foreign companies which were suspected to have caused land and forest fires.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya in Riau on Saturday made statements twice when he earlier announced that there were 14 companies (one believed to belong to Malaysian firm), allegedly involved in the burning of land and bushes.

He stated later, based on field checks, there were 8 Malaysian companies which were strongly believed to have contributed to the forest fires which caused Riau province, Singapore and Malaysia to be shrouded with haze. The eight Malaysian firms are not included in the 14 reported earlier.

"There are eight Malaysian oil palm companies which are strongly suspected to be behind the forest fires. We are still collecting data in the field to ascertain the suspicion," Balthasar told a press conference on Saturday.

The minister named the eight Malaysian companies as PT Langgam Inti Hiberida, PT Bumi Rakksa Sejati, PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation, PT Udaya Loh Dinawi, PT Adei Plantation, PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri and PT Mustika Agro Lestari.

"The eight companies excluded the 14 companies mentioned earlier to be involved in the land and bush fires," the minister said.

He said that the number of suspected companies could increase further in the field. We will continue to investigate other companies whether they came from Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore.

The section head of Forest Fire Handling and Forest Protection of Riau`s Forest Service, Rahidi said on Sunday that hotspots detected by the US NOAA satellite were found in the areas belonging to tens of local and foreign companies in Riau.

The hotspots were detected in the areas of PT Siak Seraya, PT Kimia Tirta Utama, PT Inti Indo Sawit Subur, Village Unit Cooperatives (KUD) Dayus Mas, PT Padasa Enam Utama, PT Kartayatam Bhakti Mulia, PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, PT Riau Sakti Trans, PT Raja Garuda Masa Sejati PT Sabira Negeri Utama, PT Guntung Hasrat Makmur, PT Panca Surya Agrindo, PT Bumi Reksa Nusa Sejati, PT Surya Bratasena Plantation, PT Adei Crumb Rubber, PT Rokan Adi Raya, Cooperatives 13 Anak Suku Bonai, PT Karyatama Bhakti Muli and PT Agroraya Gematrans.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said the government would not tolerate companies burning land and bushes that caused haze to shroud Raiu and its surrounding.

"Companies which are proved to have practiced slash-and-burn activities and caused land and forest fires will be acted upon firmly. There will be no compromise," the minister said when attending a function to see off a land and forest fire extinguisher team in Dumai, Riau, on Saturday.

He said that the government was now concentrating on putting out land and forest fires under the coordination of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB). The agency team is composed of members from relevant ministries.

He said that the government had assigned the National Police to handle the legal process and take sanctions against firms behind forest fires. "Firms burning land will be dealt with by the police and the government will not hesitate to punish even those who already have business permits," the forestry minister said.

The office of the environment minister is now collecting proof in the field. If the team already has enough proof, it will hand it to the police or to the prosecutor to be taken to the court.

"The fire sources are found within the areas of the companies. If the proof is enough we will take it to the court. Therefore, we will continue to coordinate with the Riau Regional Police and Prosecutor Office," Environment Minister Balthasar said.

Deputy III for Damaged Environment Control and Climate Change of the Ministry of Environment Arief Yuwono said that forest fire perpetrators would be charged based on Law No.32/2009 on Protection and Management of the Environment.

"The law has a clause with regard to forest fires which carries a crime sanction," Arief said.

Deputy V of the Ministry of Environment Sudariyono said that based on Law 32/2009, everyone had the obligation to preserve the environment, including land owners.

He said that the law did not say `deliberately or not deliberately`. It suggested that forest fires should not take place. "Owners have the obligation to protect it from fires. They have to be responsible for a fire that takes place, deliberately burned or not," he said.

Article 98, point (I) of Law 32/2009 stipulated that a land fire perpetrator is punishable by a minimal three years or maximal 10 years in jail or a minimum fine of Rp3 billion or maximum fine of Rp10 billion.

If the fire causes the fall of a victim the perpetrator is punishable by a minimum four years or maximum 12 years in jail with a fine of Rp4 billion to Rp12 billion. If it claims a live the punishment will be between 5 and 15 years in jail and a fine of between Rp5 to Rp15 billion.

Yet, Deputy III Arief of the environment ministry said his side was collecting proof, including whether the fires took place due to deliberate burning.

He said that the forest fires could be analyzed whether it had happened due to deliberate burning. "With soil analysis, we can see proof such as the fire has taken place after the perpetrators used kerosene in burning the bushes," said Arief.

Arief said that his side would see two things with regard to the forest fires in Riau, namely whether they were caused by negligence of deliberate acts. "It will be analyzed by our investigators. So, it would be proved whether the forest got fire or deliberately burned," he said.

In the meantime Rahidi of the Riau Environment Service said most of the hotspots detected by the NOAA satellite in the areas of the plantation companies in Riau had been put out. "Most of them have been put out," Rahidi said on Sunday.

Yet, the number of hotspots can just increase any time. After all, winds are still blowing from southwest to North West that could blow haze to Singapore and Malaysia, according to Riau`s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) on Saturday.

"Geographically, Singapore and Malaysia are located in the western direction of Riau Province. So, if the winds are blowing from southwest to northwest, the movement of haze has the potential to shroud the two neighboring countries," Riau`s BMKG analysts Tri Puryanti said on Saturday. (*)

(T.SYS/A/A014/S012) 23-06-2013 14:00:13

Reporter: Andi Abdussalam
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2013