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    Sep 16, 2015

    Indonesia sends 1,600 more soldiers to fight forest fires


    INDONESIA has deployed an extra 1,600 military soldiers to fight forest fires in Sumatra that have cast a thick haze over the region. The haze worsened in many places yesterday, including the island's Riau province and a wide swathe in Malaysia.

    "Pekanbaru is unfit for habitation because the air quality is dangerous. The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) figure I just heard has exceeded 1,000," local newspaper Riau Tribune quoted Riau's acting governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman as saying yesterday.

    A haze emergency was declared in Riau on Monday after the PSI reading in Pekanbaru, the province's capital, reached 984. A reading above 300 is considered hazardous.

    The additional soldiers were dispatched to Riau as well as South Sumatra province to join over 1,000 others sent to the area last week, the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) said, reported Agence France-Presse.

    Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said yesterday of the water-bombing effort to put out the fires: "We have dumped as much as 18 million and 12 million litres of water on Riau and South Sumatra respectively."

    President Joko Widodo has instructed that firm legal action be taken against the companies that set fire to the Sumatra and Kalimantan forests to clear lands for plantations.

    PT Adei Palalawan & Industry, one of the companies, was fined 15 billion rupiah (S$1.5 million) by a Riau court for severely damaging the environment and contaminating the air of the region, local news portal Detik reported yesterday.

    PT Adei has oil palm plantations covering 12,856ha in Riau, said Detik.

    Around 100 people and 15 companies are being investigated over the blazes, according to BNPB.

    Meanwhile, Malaysia has ordered schools in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor and two other states closed as the haze worsened yesterday.

    Air pollution indexes in the two federal territories, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca were nearing the very unhealthy range (201-300), with that of Kuala Lumpur hitting 185.

    More than 1.5 million students were affected by the closure of schools.

    Indonesia and Malaysia yesterday also began cloud-seeding operations to induce rain to mitigate the haze.