Indonesia makes first arrests amid Sumatra fires: two farmers

JAKARTA Mon Jun 24, 2013 10:15am EDT

1 of 5. Workers wear face masks at the haze-covered Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang outside Kuala Lumpur June 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police on Monday arrested two farmers for illegally starting fires to clear land in Sumatra, the first detentions linked to blazes that have blanketed neighboring Singapore and Malaysia with thick smog for days.

Police said the two farmers were not linked to any of the eight companies the government suspects are responsible for Southeast Asia's worst air pollution crisis in years.

The parent companies of those firms included Malaysia-listed Sime Darby, which has denied wrongdoing.

"We arrested two farmers in Riau who were clearing their land by burning. They were not working for anyone but just clearing their own land," said Agus Rianto, deputy spokesman for the national police.

Under Indonesian law, any company or person involved in an illegal forest fire faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 5 billion rupiah ($503,800).

The smog has cleared in the financial center of Singapore, with the pollution index remaining under "unhealthy levels" for the second consecutive day. It hit a record of 401 on Friday afternoon, a level considered potentially life-threatening for the ill and the elderly.

A conference on nuclear policy was postponed due to some participants unwilling to travel to Singapore because of the haze. The speakers included former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz and former secretary of defense William Perry.

(Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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