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  Channelnews Asia 12 Jul 06
Fires rage in Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra

JAKARTA : Indonesia has deployed around 1,500 firefighters to battle hundreds of forest fires raging on Sumatra island and Indonesia's Borneo, forestry officials said Wednesday.

Satellite images revealed some 300 "hot spots" from forest fires and fires set to clear land in Riau province on Sumatra, which lies to Malaysia's west, Masyud, a spokesman from Indonesia's forestry ministry, told AFP.

More than 200 fires were also burning in Jambi province, to Riau's south, and in north and south Sumatra, along with 48 others in West Kalimantan, an Indonesian province on Borneo island, he said.

Fires in Sumatra were blamed last week by Malaysian meteorological officials for blanketing the country's northern Penang state in a thick haze.

"We are on full alert status to handle this problem. These fires are not big enough to cause haze, but we need to be aware of them," Masyud said.

About 400 of the hot spots were inside logging concessions and timber estates, while 34 others were in protected and conservation areas, with the rest on smallholder plantations and community-owned land, the spokesman said.

In May, Indonesia's agriculture minister pledged that authorities would enforce a 2004 law that imposes stiff penalties on plantations that burn land, a practice largely blamed for contributing to the haze. The law imposes a maximum 10-year jail term and 10 billion rupiah (1.1 million dollars) in fines on plantations that defy the regulation.

Haze caused by burning in Indonesia and some parts of Malaysia to make way for crops causes an annual haze that afflicts countries in the region including Singapore and Thailand.

The worst-ever bout in 1997 and 1998 cost the region an estimated 9.0 billion dollars in damage by disrupting air travel and other business activities.

Last year, haze from fires on Indonesia's Sumatra island hit Kuala Lumpur and towns in Malaysia's north and its west coast, as well as parts of Thailand. - AFP /ct

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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