Haze returns, affects flights in western Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Smoke from illegal fires set to clear land, including for plantations, has blanketed parts of Riau province in western Indonesia and disrupted flight operations, an official said Tuesday.

A total of 264 hotspots were detected Tuesday by satellite across the province on Sumatra island, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

He said a thick haze is covering Pekanbaru, the province’s capital, hampering flights to and from its airport. Visibility has been reduced to less than 50 meters (yards) in some districts.

In June, acrid air choked Malaysia and Singapore, which suffered its worst recorded level of air pollution. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a public apology to his neighbors.

Authorities have warned dry weather between August and October could bring more thick smoke from Sumatra and Borneo islands.

Illegal fires destroy huge areas of Indonesian forest every summer during the dry season, angering surrounding countries, causing massive economic losses and contributing to the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. The fires are often set to clear land for farming, corporate development or oil palm plantations.

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