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Jakarta Post

Two arrested as more hotspots flare up in Riau

The Jakarta Post
Pekanbaru   ●   Sat, August 2, 2014

As more and more hotspots have been found in Riau, police moved to arrest those implicated in slash-and-burn practices.

Bukit Batu Police in Bengkalis regency arrested two people on suspicion of razing a forested area to clear it for a oil palm plantation.

Bukit Batu Police chief Comr. Sasli Rais, speaking on Friday, said the police had acted on a tip off.

'€œResidents feared that the suspects'€™ actions would trigger haze and the fire could spread due to the current drought,'€ Sasli said, as quoted by Antara news agency.

The two suspects were identified as Monang Sidabutar, a teacher at SMA 1 senior high school in Siak Kecil and Nikson Nainggolan, a farmer from Perjuangan, Sejangat village.

The size of the razed area was around one hectare (ha).

So far, the local police in Riau have arrested 189 suspects in relation to intentional land and forest fire allegations between January and July this year.

'€œThe number of suspects might increase as police personnel are still on the lookout for other culprits,'€ Riau Police spokesperson Adj. Snr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo noted.

The arrests came after it was reported that the number of hotspots had increased during Idul Fitri in Riau. Forest and land fires continue to occur in the province, affecting no less than 848 ha of land.

The Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) reported an increase in the number of hotspots in Riau forests on Friday compared to the previous day, which red zero after due to rainfall.

'€œThe latest update from Modis Terra and Aqua satellites detected 95 hotspots spread across five districts or cities in Riau, of which 51 hotspots were in Rokan Hilir district,'€ Riau BPBD head Said Saqlul Amri remarked on Friday.

With 30 hotspots, Dumai city ranked second followed by Bengkalis district with 12.

The satellites also detected a hotspot each in Rokan Hulu and Siak districts.

According to the US NOAA 18 Satellite, which is operated in Singapore, only five hotspots were found on the same day, three of which were located in Rokan Hilir and two in Bengkalis.

The satellite detects when the air temperature is higher than 40 degrees Celsius, which is considered to be a forest fire.

However, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the number of hotspots could be higher because there were many areas that had not been accessed.

Sutopo said the alert status for the haze from forest and land fires was still under review by the Riau provincial administration.

The joint task force will continue to fight fires in the region various ways including weather modification.

Hundreds of personnel from the Indonesian Military (TNI), the Air Force and the police as well as from the Forestry Ministry and local BPBDs are also involved in the effort.

'€œBut land clearing has been so intensive that the number of hotspots has increased,'€ Sutopo said, adding that BNPB head Syamsul Maarif had asked the Riau governor as well as local regents and mayors to intensify efforts to control forest and land fires in their respective regions throughout Idul Fitri.

'€œPreventive measure are more effective than fire fighting, especially on peatland,'€ he said.

Syamsul, according to Sutopo, had also instructed the MI-8 helicopter to fly over Pontianak, West Kalimantan, to douse fires.

So far this year, forest and land fires have destroyed 25 thousand ha of land in Riau, which has led
to major losses, air pollution and haze.