First court case over haze may start next month

Fires in a plantation in Riau being put out by firemen.

INDONESIA - The first case of a company charged with illegal burning may land in a Riau district court next month, said a senior Indonesian official, even as the haze thickened and meteorologists warned of more hot spots through October.

"Most of the cases have moved to the investigations stage and we expect the first case ready to be in court by end of September," Mr Mas Achmad Santosa, deputy of a presidential task force, told The Straits Times on the sidelines of a United Nations-led workshop on Forestry Law.

He declined to name the company, citing ongoing legal proceedings, but said the charges would extend culpability to corporations and executives. "We are serious about nailing them down," he said.

Separately, the Forestry and Environment Ministers told the Straits Times that farmers were still setting fire to land and that changing the habit of burning land to clear it will take a long time.

Thursday's hot spots over Sumatra dwindled to 28 from 99 on Wednesday. Though the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Pekanbaru went down to 100 today after hitting 320 on Tuesday, televised footage showed villagers there struggling to put out fires after 17 of their houses were burned.

Singapore's air quality stayed in the "Good" PSI range. The National Environment Agency said Singapore could see slight haze in the next few days.

Air quality in the northern Malaysian states hit the unhealthy range before improving yesterday.

The persistent haze prompted Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel on Thursday to describe Indonesia as "problematic" in dealing with it. Indonesia has yet to ratify an ASEAN haze treaty and prefers to deal bilaterally with the worst-affected countries.

"They are willing to provide photographs of the hot spot areas to us but not to the ASEAN secretariat overseeing the issue," he told reporters in Malaysia, referring to Indonesia.


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