Corrected: Indonesia says some forest fires started on Malaysian-controlled land

(Corrects lead and headline to say minister did not blame companies for causing the fires, but said fires started on their 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 two neighbours traded blame for blazes that have spread haze across the region. 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 plantations owned by at least four subsidiaries of Malaysian companies. The plantations had been sealed off after the fires were spotted, she added. 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. The two other parent companies did not respond to emails or phone calls requesting comment. Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smoke caused by slash-and-burn clearances of forests for farms and palm oil plantation land, raising worries about public health and the impact on tourism. The minister named 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” 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) has 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 neighbouring lands,” it said in a statement. Kuala Lumpur Kepong and TDM Berhad, which is owned by the Malaysian state of Terengganu, did not reply to emails or phone calls requesting comment. 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”.

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