Mon, 03 Oct 1994

Kalimantan, Sumatra forest fires turn into blaming game

JAKARTA (JP): The government blames the nomadic tribes. The Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) blames the forestry concessionaires. Now the concessionaires are blaming the weather.

While neighboring Malaysia and Singapore are complaining loudly about the haze that comes from the bush fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, in Jakarta various parties are still trying to work out what or who started the fires. And it is turning into a finger pointing game.

The Forestry Society of Indonesia (MPI) took particular offense at Walhi's suggestion last week that the fires in Kalimantan were chiefly started by inexperienced forestry concessionaires and plantation companies who ignited fires to clear the land.

"Their charges are not true, we believe that the fires were primarily triggered by the prolonged dry season," MPI Secretary General Tjipto Wignjoprajitno told The Jakarta Post by phone on Saturday.

Tjipto, who is also the Secretary General of the Association of Indonesian Wood Panel Producers (Apkindo), said "human factor" only played a minor element in the fires which are raging in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

"Of course, some of the fires was caused by slash and burn cultivations practiced by the nomadic tribes, or even arson which originated from labor or land disputes," he said.

"But these are not the primary causes."

Walhi executive Emmy Hafield defended the Dayaks, the local Kalimantan tribe, in the face of a government minister accusation that their slash and burn cultivation practice has been the main cause of the fires.

Walhi officials said that the Dayaks know when they should clear the land to begin their planting season. The Dayak people make use of centuries-old methods in selecting the planting season by referring to the moon and stars.

Since the fires started sometime this month, it was naive to blame the local tribes for the disaster because they finished their land clearing schedule in August, they said.


Meanwhile, Indro Tjahjono of the Indonesian Secretariat for Forest Protection (Skephi), armed with statistics, joined in the blaming game yesterday, throwing his support behind Walhi.

Indro said that of the current fires raging, about 60 percent is in plantation areas while the other 37 percent is burning down the transmigration-timber concession areas.

"Most of these two areas are controlled by private firms," Indro told the Post. "Most of them have very poor environmental managements," he said.

He also added that those companies either simply burn the area for land clearing or leave a lot of dry branches behind after land clearing, which can easily cause forest fires.

Tjipto denied the allegations of poor environmental awareness among forestry concessionaires.

"We always follow the rules prescribed by the Ministry of Forestry," he said. "If there are abuses, they are isolated cases and will be dealt with by the Association and the government."

Indro said the nomadic tribes live in isolation around the conserved-forest areas and not near plantations or timber estates.

"Of the total area of the current forest fires, only about two percent is in the conserved-forest areas," he said. "The nomadic tribes are not the main culprits," he added. (hdj)