Jakarta to step up water bombing

INDONESIA - Indonesia plans to step up its efforts to contain the haze with larger scale water-bombing operations, said the top official overseeing the disaster response effort.

"We will do water-bombing on a bigger scale. Hopefully, we can start in one week's time," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono told reporters on Thursday.

Indonesia will rent Russian Kamov helicopters with belly tanks that can drop more water than those in use now, forestry official Sonny Partono added.

A Kamov helicopter can carry some 8,000 litres of water, compared to just 500 litres by the helicopters being used in Riau.

The haze situation has improved in recent days following cloud-seeding and water-bombing efforts by disaster response teams in Riau province.

But the government plans to step up operations amid concerns that the haze may return.

Enforcement action has also gathered pace.

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On Thursday, police said 16 people had been named suspects in land-clearing fires in Riau.

Investigators have also been gathering evidence against the eight companies that Indonesia says are responsible for setting the fires.

Meanwhile, a group of consumer goods giants meeting in Jakarta on Thursday sought to pressure Indonesian suppliers of palm oil and pulp and paper products into making sure that sustainable practices are enforced down their supply chains.

The first meeting of the Tropical Forest Alliance brought together companies, civil society groups and officials aiming to end deforestation by key industries by 2020.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who opened the meeting, said the practice of land-clearing which causes the haze remains a challenge.

"Companies have to ensure compliance which is enforced to the lowest level of operations on the ground," he said.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Zakir Hussain in Jakarta

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