Jakarta (dpa) - Forest fires continued to rage Saturday on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, blanketing the provincial centre of Riau with thick smoke and haze, according to a local report.
Residents of the provincial capital Pekanbaru wore masks to protect themselves from the smoke, which has caused throat irritations and other medical problems, the state-run Antara news agency reported.
As many as 500 forest fires - or hotspots - set earlier this month by plantation companies and farmers to clear land for cultivation, have been spotted by satellite images of Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.
The Jakarta government has threatened stiff punishment against companies using slash-and-burn techniques, and suspended the business licences of several plantations on Sumatra accused of responsibility for the latest fires.
Blaze-related haze and smoke has become a yearly problem for Indonesia as well as its regional neighbors, causing health problems, and affecting air and sea transportation and tourism.
In 1997, widespread fires aided by prolonged drought on Sumatra and Borneo blanketed parts of the country, as well as Sinpagore and Malaysia. dpa jc vc
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/18/2000 05:45:20
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