In response to the ongoing forest fires in Riau that have caused severe haze across Sumatra, National Police chief Gen. Sutarman declared Saturday that the police would shoot on sight any suspects involved in land burning activities that resisted arrest.
"If the offenders resist arrest or harm other people, just shoot them," Sutarman said as quoted by Antara news agency at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru, Riau.
He said that officials implicated in the crime would suffer the same treatment: "Shoot them too."
Police have named as many as 60 suspected-fire starters in Riau. "One suspect is from PT NSP," Sutarman continued.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged all parties, including firemen, to work harder to overcome the severe haze and set a three-week deadline.
Yudhoyono visited Pekanbaru to inspect several areas affected by the choking haze on Saturday, a day after he launched his three-week integrated emergency operation.
He arrived at Pekanbaru's Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport Saturday afternoon after his flight from Adi Soemarmo International Airport in Surakarta, Central Java, was diverted to Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam due to visibility issues.
"The operation to extinguish the fires should be intensified and I expect [the situation] to be over within three weeks," Yudhoyono told a joint-group of firemen, including those from the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) as quoted by Antara.
The integrated emergency measure aims to tackle fires and haze, provide health services to affected individuals and enforce the law. The President has also ordered National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Syamsul Maarif to lead the joint operation and asked companies in Riau to actively prevent fires from occurring.
Riau residents have been advised to minimize outdoor activities, while thousands of people across the province are suffering from various illnesses as a result of the deteriorating air quality.
According to the BNPB, as of Saturday morning, the air quality in several areas, including Pekanbaru city and Bengkalis, Siak and Kampar regencies, had yet to improve although rain in Pekanbaru at noon, just before Yudhoyono arrived, had cleared the air somewhat.
"The areas [noted above] registered more than 300 on the pollutant standards index [PSI], or hit a dangerous level," BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, adding his team would continue to seed clouds to induce rain. Under normal conditions, the PSI range is between zero and 50.
As many 11,260 residents of Pekanbaru had been treated for acute respiratory infections as of Saturday, Antara reported. On Friday, Riau Health Agency recorded that there were more than 55,000 residents in the province suffering from haze-related illnesses, including acute respiratory infections, pneumonia and skin and eye irritation.
Some residents have left the city in an attempt to protect their health.
The thick haze also disrupted the legislative election campaigns in Padang, West Sumatra.
"If haze still covers the areas on April 9, [we are] worried voter turnout will be affected," West Sumatra General Elections Commission (KPU) member Nova Indra said. "People are [already] reluctant to leave the house for daily chores, such as a trip to the market, due to the haze."
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