Manila Bulletin

In­done­sia ar­rests seven over SE Asia haze

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JAKARTA (AFP) – In­done­sian po­lice have de­tained seven peo­ple whose com­pa­nies are al­legedly con­nected with illegal agri­cul­tural fires that have cloaked South­east Asia (SE) in haze, in rare ar­rests over the an­nual smog out­breaks.

They were ar­rested on Wed­nes­day on In­done­sia’s Su­ma­tra is­land, where author­i­ties have been bat­tling smog-belch­ing blazes which were started to clear land for palm oil and pulp and pa­per plan­ta­tions, na­tional po­lice chief Badrodin Haiti said.

Po­lice said some of those ar­rested were ex­ec­u­tives, but did not give de­tails about all the com­pany em­ploy­ees de­tained. Of­fi­cials did not re­veal their iden­ti­ties or say which firms they worked for.

They could face up to 15 years in jail and heavy fines if found guilty of break­ing In­done­sian laws that ban start­ing for­est fires.

Tens of thou­sands have fallen ill in parts of In­done­sia as the haze thick­ened over the past fort­night, and the smog has led to un­healthy air qual­ity and re­duced vis­i­bil­ity in neigh­bor­ing Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia.

“The pres­i­dent’s in­struc­tion is clear – law en­force­ment must be firm so that this will not hap­pen again next year,” Haiti told re­porters late Wed­nes­day, an­nounc­ing the ar­rests.

Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo pledged this week to crack down on com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als be­hind the fires, and hun­dreds of ex­tra po­lice and in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been sent to haze-hit ar­eas to hunt for those who are re­spon­si­ble.

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