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 Indonesian plantation baron arrested for illegal l

31/08/05 JAKARTA (AFP) - In a rare crackdown by Indonesian authorities, aprominent land baron has been arrested for illegally clearing swathes offorest on Sumatra island to use as palm oil plantations, an official said.

North Sumatra prosecutors arrested Daulat Sitorus, owner of the Torgandabusiness group, near the provincial capital Medan on Tuesday, saidSuhandoyo, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

He told AFP that Sitorus had "illegally acquired and controlled" licensesfor some 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of state forests and turned theminto palm oil plantations managed by his company.

North Sumatra chief prosecutor Wisnu Subroto, quoted by the Detikcomonline news agency, said Wednesday that his office would question past andpresent forestry officials in connection with the case.

He said a massive land deal such as the one by Sitorus' company in 1994"could not have possibly been done" without paying bribes to localgovernment officials.

The use of fire to clear land, by plantation firms and others on Sumatraand the Indonesian part of Borneo island, helped cause a choking hazewhich enveloped parts of Malaysia and Thailand last month.

It was not clear whether Sitorus' plantation was among those responsiblefor the haze.

Indonesia is losing forest areas equivalent to half the size ofSwitzerland every year, according to the London-based EnvironmentalInvestigation Agency.

Rapid deforestation has had devastating environmental consequences forboth Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia, causing floods andlandslides as well as an annual haze which shrouds nearby countries.

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