Indonesia: Shoot-on-sight order issued for haze offenders in Riau

Ina Parlina and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 16 Mar 14;

In response to the ongoing forest fires in Riau that have caused severe haze across Sumatra, National Police chief Gen. Sutarman declared Saturday that the police would shoot on sight any suspects involved in land burning activities that resisted arrest.

“If the offenders resist arrest or harm other people, just shoot them,” Sutarman said as quoted by Antara news agency at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru, Riau.

He said that officials implicated in the crime would suffer the same treatment: “Shoot them too.”

Police have named as many as 60 suspected-fire starters in Riau. “One suspect is from PT NSP,” Sutarman continued.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged all parties, including firemen, to work harder to overcome the severe haze and set a three-week deadline.

Yudhoyono visited Pekanbaru to inspect several areas affected by the choking haze on Saturday, a day after he launched his three-week integrated emergency operation.

He arrived at Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport Saturday afternoon after his flight from Adi Soemarmo International Airport in Surakarta, Central Java, was diverted to Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam due to visibility issues.

“The operation to extinguish the fires should be intensified and I expect [the situation] to be over within three weeks,” Yudhoyono told a joint-group of firemen, including those from the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) as quoted by Antara.

The integrated emergency measure aims to tackle fires and haze, provide health services to affected individuals and enforce the law. The President has also ordered National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Syamsul Maarif to lead the joint operation and asked companies in Riau to actively prevent fires from occurring.

Riau residents have been advised to minimize outdoor activities, while thousands of people across the province are suffering from various illnesses as a result of the deteriorating air quality.

According to the BNPB, as of Saturday morning, the air quality in several areas, including Pekanbaru city and Bengkalis, Siak and Kampar regencies, had yet to improve although rain in Pekanbaru at noon, just before Yudhoyono arrived, had cleared the air somewhat.

“The areas [noted above] registered more than 300 on the pollutant standards index [PSI], or hit a dangerous level,” BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, adding his team would continue to seed clouds to induce rain. Under normal conditions, the PSI range is between zero and 50.

As many 11,260 residents of Pekanbaru had been treated for acute respiratory infections as of Saturday, Antara reported. On Friday, Riau Health Agency recorded that there were more than 55,000 residents in the province suffering from haze-related illnesses, including acute respiratory infections, pneumonia and skin and eye irritation.

Some residents have left the city in an attempt to protect their health.

The thick haze also disrupted the legislative election campaigns in Padang, West Sumatra.

“If haze still covers the areas on April 9, [we are] worried voter turnout will be affected,” West Sumatra General Elections Commission (KPU) member Nova Indra said. “People are [already] reluctant to leave the house for daily chores, such as a trip to the market, due to the haze.”

Police Warn Riau Fire Starters as SBY Lands in Province
Jakarta Globe 16 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru. The chief of the National Police has sent a strong warning to anyone caught illegally slashing and burning land in Riau: stop immediately or risk being shot for resisting arrest.

“If anyone fights back and endangers [officers or others], just shoot them,” National Police chief Gen. Sutarman said in Pekanbaru on Saturday.

He said the same policy should be applied to security or government officers allegedly involved in land burning.

“Shoot them as well,” Sutarman said according to Indonesian news portal

He added that police have so far named 60 suspects for allegedly igniting fires in Riau.

Most of the suspects have been identified as local farmers. One plantation firm — National Sago Prima, a subsidiary of publicly-listed Sampoerna Agro — was also named a suspect, however.

Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono, meanwhile, said his office had formed a special team consisting of 558 officers tasked exclusively with hunting down those responsible for setting land and forest fires in Riau.

The resulting haze from the fires has disrupted flights and has caused tens of thousands of local residents to suffer from respiratory illnesses.

The haze has also spread to neighboring provinces such as Jambi and West Sumatra. Jambi on Saturday reported nearly 56,000 of its residents also suffered from respiratory illnesses, reported.

Condro said the team involved different organizations, including the Indonesian Military (TNI) as well as forest rangers, and was split up into nine smaller groups. Five of the groups have been sent to Bengkalis district and four to Pelalawan district.

“[The Pelalawan teams] will focus on Meranti Bay, which borders the Kerumutan Wildlife Conservation,” Condro said. “There have been lot of hotspots likely caused by illegal logging [there].”

The Bengkalis teams, meanwhile, will concentrate on the Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve in the subdistrict of Bukit Batu. “The Bengkalis teams can also cross to Rupat island, where there are a lot of hotspots.”

Police made these statements as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono landed in Pekanbaru on Saturday to inspect the situation.

Upon arriving in Pekanbaru, the president and his entourage took a road trip to Rimbo Panjang village in Kampar district to see firsthand the remnants of the burnt lands. On Sunday, after a meeting with Riau Governor Annas Maamum, the president was scheduled to take another trip 120 km away to Siak district, which is among the regions worst hit by the fires.

“It’s better that we listen to the residents’ stories — of what our brothers have seen and witnessed, of their hopes,” Yudhoyono said in Pekanbaru on Sunday according to the president’s official website. “Proper solutions will usually arise after we hear all of [the stories].”

The President, irritated by local officials’ slow response to the fire and haze issues, on Friday said he would take over and lead emergency measures himself if local officials and cabinet ministers continued to fail to address the problems.

Yudhoyono announced three emergency measures to handle the Riau fires: extinguish them as soon as possible, provide health treatment for affected residents and bolster law enforcement in affected areas. This despite the fact that the governor of Riau had already declared a state of emergency in the province last month.

The “Integrated Emergency Operation” initiated by the president will take place for three weeks, the president said.

Facts on the ground

On Sunday, citing satellite images, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reported 171 hotspots in Riau, with Siak district reporting the most hotspots (78), followed by Indragiri Hilir (32) and Meranti (28).

“Officers have put out fires across 15,837 hectares of lands, from a total of 19,538 hectares burned,” the BNPB said. “Yesterday, air officers successfully dropped 60 water bombs on Giam Siak Kecil.”

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported visibility of 2 km at 6 a.m. on Sunday, marking a significant improvement from when visibility was less than 300 meters during the height of the crisis.

The agency also forecast light to heavy rains in Riau over the next two days, as well as showers until April, heightening hopes that fires and the haze could be further reduced.

183 Riau residents evacuate due to haze
Antara 16 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - A total of 183 people have fled their homes in Siak district, Riau province, due to thick smoke from forest and plantation fires.

"Smoke and fire are worsening. I saw smoke shroud my house. The fire was only 10 meters away from my house," evacuee Nurbasah said on Sunday.

The evacuees who are taking shelter at the Siak district seedling cultivation office are residents of Buatan Besar hamlet.

The evacuees consist of 35 children under five, 47 elementary school students and 101 adults.

Nurbasah said many residents were actually reluctant to evacuate because they want to protect their farm land and houses from fires.

"They later decided to evacuate after police picked them up on vehicles (to evacuee camp)," he said.

(Reporting by FB Anggoro/Uu.B003)

Editor: Priyambodo RH


Pekanbaru Airport resumes operation after haze problem
Antara 16 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The Sultan Syarif Kasim International Airport in Pekanbaru city, Riau Province, has resumed its operation on Sunday after being disrupted by smog disaster for several days, the airport authority said.

"This morning, a Lion Air plane just landed at around 06.45 AM. We called on other airlines to operate normally because the haze starts diminishing," the airports duty manager, Ibnu Hasan, said here Sunday.

The pilot visibility was currently 2,500 meters, he said.

Thick haze, caused by continued forest fires in Riau over the past month had disturbed air transportation in the province.

As a result of thickening haze, the airport authority should temporarily stop flights due to low visibility.

Meanwhile Pekanbarus Chief of Airlines Operator Committee (AOC) Ahmad Nixon said six airlines were still halting operation due to haze in Pekanbaru city.

"Silk Air tries to fly from Pekanbaru airport today but it then cancels it due to the haze, while Mandala Air says it will assess todays weather condition before deciding whether to resume its flight service or not," Ahmad said.

The Firefly airline said it would still halt its operation until further notice while Citilink airline said it stop flying to and from Pekanbaru until March 17.

"Other airlines such as Lion group and Sky Aviation convey that they will not fly from and to Pekanbatu until March 19. While the national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia says it will not serve Pekanbaru route until March 22," he added.

(Reporting by FB Anggoro/translating and editing by Amie Fenia Arimbi/R013)

Editor: Priyambodo RH