September 13, 2019 / 6:47 AM / 3 months ago

Indonesia says some forest fires started on Malaysian-controlled land

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s environment minister said on Friday some forest fires in its territory had started on land used by subsidiaries of Malaysian companies, as the neighbors traded blame for blazes that have spread haze across the region.

Students cover their faces with masks at a school as haze shrouds Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Malaysia has said smoke from fires on Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands over the past month has drifted over the border, forcing it to close schools and issue public health alerts.

Indonesia has dismissed those accusations saying fires have broken out in other countries - and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told Reuters some of the fires in Indonesia had been spotted in palm oil plantations owned by at least four subsidiaries of Malaysian companies.

The plantations had been sealed off after the fires were spotted, she said.

Two of the Malaysian parent companies said their subsidiary’s plantations had not been sealed off as a result of any fires and they were on high alert for blazes. A third company confirmed a fire in its plantation, while the fourth did not respond to requests for comment.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smoke caused by slash-and-burn clearance of forests for farms and palm oil plantations, raising worries about public health and the impact on tourism.

The minister identified the subsidiaries as Sime Indo Agro, a unit of Sime Darby Plantation; Sukses Karya Sawit, a unit of IOI Corporation; Rafi Kamajaya Abadi, a unit of TDM Berhad; and Riau-based Adei Plantation and Industry, a unit of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Group.

“These are the total of foreign firms (whose lands) we have sealed,” she told Reuters.

‘HIGH ALERT’

Kuala Lumpur Kepong confirmed a fire at P.T. Adei which the company said was successfully extinguished within a day. It said 4.25 hectares of its land had been sealed off for an investigation.

Sime Darby said none of the land used by its subsidiary had been closed as a result of fires.

“There has not been any action taken by the Indonesian Authorities to seal off the operations of PT Sime Indo Agro due to fire occurrence,” Sime Darby said in a statement to Reuters.

IOI said its subsidiary, Sukses Karya Sawit (SKS), had not received any official notification on its land being sealed off. But it said several small fires had been extinguished in recent months.

“SKS has been on high alert and has put in place measures to deal with the dry weather and the risk of fire. We were able to quickly extinguish several small fires that have occurred over the last couple of months and have assisted other companies and villagers to respond to fires on our neighboring lands,” it said in a statement.

TDM Berhad, which is owned by the Malaysian state of Terengganu, did not reply to an email and phone call requesting comment.

Slideshow (14 Images)

Sukses Karya Sawit, Rafi Kamajaya Abadi and Adei Plantation and Industry could not be reached for comment.

Teresa Kok, Malaysia’s minister in charge of palm oil, said any report of fires on land controlled by Malaysian companies was a “serious accusation”.

Kok said she had contacted the four Malaysian companies and they would cooperate with the authorities to “correct this accusation and put matters right quickly”.

Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe and Gayatri Suroyo in JAKARTA; Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi in KUALA LUMPUR; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Robert Birsel

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