Haze clears on Sumatra, but remains critical on Borneo

Jakarta (dpa) - Several days of rain on Indonesia's Sumatra island have dampened forest fires and reduced the dangerous levels of haze, but on the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo fires have brought the haze to alarming proportions, it was reported on Monday.

The Antara news agency reported on Monday that in West Kalimantan province environmental protection authorities were concerned the effect the haze would have on the health of local residents.

The fires, deliberately caused by farmers and plantation owners to clear new land for crops, has caused haze that has covered most of Jakarta and Borneo.

An official in the eastern Borneo city of Pontianak was quoted by Antara as saying that pollution levels in some areas were six to ten times more than normal.

The private television broadcaster SCTV reported from Pontianak that air traffic to the city had been seriously disrupted due to the haze. Flights could only resume after mid-morning when a sea breeze had cleared the air sufficiently.

Pontianak officials were also reported to be distributing face masks.

In Jakarta President Abdurrahman Wahid is coming under increasing pressure to do something about the fires on Sumatra and Borneo.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) on Monday urged Wahid to change the laws so that perpetrators of the forest and scrub fires could be punished.

The mass daily newspaper Kompas quoted the Minister of Welfare Basri Hasanuddin as saying that Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei had already complained about the smog from Indonesia.

Last week the government labelled four plantation companies in Sumatra as being ''the main culprits'' responsible for the haze in Riau province. The forestry ministry accused them of using slash and burn methods to clear land.

According to Indonesian officials satellite photos had been used to douse 1,200 forest fires in the past weeks.

In 1997 the haze was so bad that even in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore inhabitants were at times unable to see the sun properly. Walhi said that in 1997 more than 10 million hectares were destroyed by forest fires in Borneo and Sumatra.

Strong rains during the past weekend doused the fires in Raui province and helped to disperse the smog.

dpa pd js
AP-NY-03-13-00 0518EST

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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/13/2000 05:19:14


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