Plantations say settlers to blame for starting fires

Plantations say settlers to blame for starting fires
Indonesia Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan (holding a fire hose) during his visit to Simpang Mamugo in Dumai to witness efforts to put out plantation fires.

INDONESIA - Major pulp and palm oil companies admit there have been fires in their concession areas in Indonesia, but denied suggestions by officials and watchdogs that they were responsible for them.

They said they followed strict no-burning policies and demanded their contractors do the same.

But fires in neighbouring areas or parts settled by local communities were the issue, they said, adding that they had worked to put these out.

The companies' comments come as Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya, visiting Pekanbaru, identified eight of them, and said they were Malaysian-owned.

"If there is enough evidence, we will take them to court," he added.

At least 14 companies are being investigated, he said, and others may be named in the coming days.

Sime Darby Plantations, whose companies PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati and PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (PT TMP) are among the eight named, had said it "is unable to exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others".

For instance, area residents lived on some 2,474ha of its 13,836ha TMP concession.

Sime Darby spokesman Leela Barrock added that TMP had been telling settlers on its lands not to carry out open burning, but it was ignored.

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