Fidelis E. Satriastanti
The Environment Ministry has found indications of arson in recent fires at the protected Tripa peat forest in Aceh, a senior ministry official said on Sunday.
“It baffles me. We are still investigating, but these fires keep occurring,” said Sudariyono, the ministry’s deputy for legal compliance.
“We have a strong suspicion that the fires are not accidental, judging by how they are shaped. When viewed from above it is very irregular. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a mitigation system, in the sense that no one’s trying to put them out.”
The Tripa swamp is a key habitat of the Sumatran orangutan, a critically endangered species, with 200 individuals believed to be living in the area.
Sudariyono said the ministry’s investigators had not found any indications that orangutans were killed in the fires.
A moratorium map published by the ministry identified Tripa as protected area. There is also a law in place that is meant to prohibit the issuance of new concessions on land with peat layers more than three meters deep.
Despite this, two companies, Kallista Alam and Surya Panen Subur 2, received concessions in Tripa.
Kallista’s permit, issued by former Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, is currently the subject of a legal challenge by activists.
Sudariyono said Surya Panen “was suspected of burning some 1,183 hectares” of land inside the Tripa peat swamp from March 19 to 24 this year.
Kallista, he said, was believed to have burned some 30 hectares of its 1,605-hectare concession in the peat swamp.
The ministry has not concluded its investigation but Sudariyono said his office was already mulling legal action against Kallista and Surya Panen. The companies “could be charged in criminal court over the fires and they could face lawsuits for damaging the forest,” he said.
The Environment Ministry has questioned witnesses from the two companies, nongovernmental organizations, residents and local government offices.