Fire in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­ceive death threats

The Myanmar Times - - World -

IN­DONE­SIAN of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gat­ing for­est fires were taken hostage and threat­ened with death by a mob al­legedly linked to a palm oil com­pany, prompt­ing ac­tivists to de­cry a law en­force­ment cri­sis.

A seven-strong team on Su­ma­tra is­land, which is af­flicted with se­ri­ous fires dur­ing the dry sea­son ev­ery year, were prob­ing why blazes were burn­ing out of con­trol de­spite the govern­ment’s at­tempts to com­bat them.

But as they ex­am­ined a plan­ta­tion where a com­pany, Andika Per­mata Sawit Les­tari (APSL), was sus­pected of us­ing fires to il­le­gally clear land, a 100-strong gang forced them to delete pho­tos and took them hostage.

The mob – sus­pected to be APSL em­ploy­ees – threat­ened to beat them, kill them and dump their bod­ies in a nearby river. They were fi­nally re­leased un­harmed af­ter 12 hours when po­lice in­ter­vened, ac­cord­ing to the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry.

The case high­lights the dif­fi­culty In­done­sia faces in fight­ing fires that flare an­nu­ally on Su­ma­tra and the In­done­sian part of Bor­neo. The blazes are set to clear land for palm oil and pulp­wood plan­ta­tions, shroud­ing South­east Asia in toxic smog.

Last year’s fires were among the worst in liv­ing mem­ory. They cloaked large parts of In­done­sia, as well as Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and Thai­land, with haze that caused thou­sands to fall ill and dis­rupted air travel.

In­done­sia has cracked down on il­le­gal burn­ing by strength­en­ing reg­u­la­tions and arresting hun­dreds ac­cused over the prac­tice.

But laws set by the cen­tral govern­ment are of­ten flouted across the ar­chi­pel­ago of over 17,000 is­lands where power is heav­ily de­cen­tralised and cor­rup­tion rife, and many fires still oc­cur ev­ery year

The team were taken hostage late on Septem­ber 2 af­ter the mob forced them to delete pic­tures of al­leged il­le­gal burn­ing. The en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter said she sus­pected they were em­ploy­ees of the plan­ta­tion owner.

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