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Indonesia mulls criminal & civil charges against firms over illegal burning

The Indonesian government is looking into pressing criminal and civil charges against corporations responsible for illegal land clearing. This is seen as a significant move, and could make companies think twice before they resort to burning as a form of land clearing.

SINGAPORE: The Indonesian government is looking into pressing criminal and civil charges against corporations responsible for illegal land clearing.

This is seen as a significant move, and could make companies think twice before they resort to burning as a form of land clearing.

Indonesian Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono, who is taking a lead in the government's response to this year's haze, said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants the emergency response team to better enforce the law, in addition to increasing public awareness of the dangers of illegal land clearing.

He said: "We want to create a deterrent effect especially towards corporations, not just ordinary civilians. That includes those who are responsible, the owners which in some companies may be foreign nationals. Some of them own shares in plantation companies operating in our country, whether it be in Sumatra or Kalimantan."

In the 2013 fires, eight companies were allegedly involved in burning land in Riau.
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The environment ministry is following up on seven of those cases.

One involves a Malaysian company - PT Adei Plantation & Industry - and its case is being tried at Pelalawan District Court.

The other cases have not yet been handed over to the courts as the Riau High Prosecutor's Office considers the investigation dossiers still incomplete.

Since 2013, there have been 41 cases of individuals suspected of illegally clearing land.

Civil charges have been brought against them for losses incurred and these individuals, if found guilty, could face anywhere between six months and eight years’ prison time.

Currently, nine provinces are affected by the haze, including five in Sumatra and four provinces in Kalimantan.

Although the haze in Riau improved on Thursday morning, plans are underway for weather modification and water bombing to be carried out in case the haze worsens again.

A haze management post has been set up at the local disaster mitigation agency office and the military base in Pekanbaru.

A joint task force of over 1,500 police and military personnel has also been deployed to put out the fires and evacuate 100 families after forest fires destroyed their homes.

The Riau governor has also initiated civilian volunteer groups, who will monitor forest and plantation fires.

Each village has been instructed to have five volunteers who will notify the authorities of any fires or suspicious activities that could trigger a fire. 

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