Indonesia to appeal rejection of $565 mn haze lawsuit

For nearly two months in 2015, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia, forcing schools to close and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled

The Indonesian government will appeal a court’s rejection of a $565 million lawsuit against a pulp and paper company accused of failing to prevent fires that blanketed Southeast Asia in toxic haze, an official said Thursday.

The court on Sumatra island Wednesday dismissed the civil suit brought by authorities against Bumi Mekar Hijau, a supplier to global giant Asia Pulp and Paper, over fires on plantation land in 2014, saying there was insufficient evidence.

The haze-belching fires occur every year as land is cleared using slash-and-burn methods to make way for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

The damages would have been the biggest ever levied against a firm over such burning activities in Indonesia, and environmentalists said the rejection was a major setback in efforts to take on those behind the annual haze outbreaks.

Environment ministry spokesman Eka Widodo Sugiri said the government would file an appeal against the court’s decision within two weeks.

“Our nation’s dignity was disturbed, we received complaints from neighbouring countries,” Sugiri told AFP.

Plantation companies are responsible for ensuring fires do not break out on their land, but blazes still occur frequently.

Major firms have “zero-burn” policies and typically insist fires inside their concessions start outside before spreading in, and are started by people not working for them.

Authorities accused Bumi Mekar Hijau of failing to prevent in a concession in South Sumatra province last year, according to state-run Antara news agency.

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