Foul mood in the air as plantation firms feel the heat

Foul mood in the air as plantation firms feel the heat

RIAU - My two Straits Times colleagues and I were taking some photos when we were briefly stopped by a plantation owner who was worried that we would put his company in a bad light.

Even after we explained why we were there, he ejected us from his plantation - the first time I had come across such nasty behaviour in the several years that I had been covering haze-related stories in Indonesia.

"Who let them in?" the plantation owner in Pelintung, about a 20-minute drive from Dumai, asked his men.

"Tell him I am firing him," the owner of Ayu oil palm plantation company snapped after one of his men mentioned a name.

His foul mood could have been due partly to the fact that the Indonesian government has been cracking down on those who use slash-and-burn methods to clear their land. This can cause fires to spread uncontrollably.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya has said that those who resort to illegal open-air burning should be jailed.

Indonesia is under mounting pressure from Malaysia and Singapore, which have been badly affected by the haze and whose governments have raised the issue with Jakarta.

Residents here complain about smoke-related ailments like shortness of breath and chest pains.

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