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Indonesian troops deployed to fight forest fires

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An Indonesian soldier and a firefighter try to extinguish peatland fire at Payung Sekaki, Pekanbaru, Riau, Indonesia, July 20, 2019. A joint team from local firefighters, police and military officers tried to extinguish forest fire several days ago. (Xinhua/Hadly Vavaldi)

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is deploying thousands of military and police to douse forest fires after declaring an emergency in six provinces on the island of Sumatra and in the province of Kalimantan on Borneo, a disaster mitigation official said on Wednesday.

Indonesia has faced global pressure to put an end to slash-and-burn clearance of land, often to plant palm and pulp plantations, particularly after devastating fires in 2015.

Fires Indonesian farmers use to clear land during the dry season can rage out of control, bringing a choking haze that can affect neighbours such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Drought has hit large parts of the archipelago as a mild El Nino weather pattern disrupts the dry season, weather officials say, with its peak now expected to run from mid-August to mid-September.

The number of hot spots has been increasing, with 124 intense enough to suggest fires detected nationwide by Wednesday morning, said Agus Wibowo, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

The government has declared an emergency in the provinces of Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Jambi, South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan, where extensive peatlands are particularly prone to fires, he added.

Authorities have brought in 5,679 additional personnel to five of the provinces, drawn from the military, police and the regional disaster mitigation agency, Wibowo said.

Also being deployed are aircraft that can run water bombing operations. In Riau, disaster authorities have made available 17 helicopters, with 10 more pressed in from private firms, the military and the forestry ministry, he added.

To help stop the fires and preserve crops, authorities are turning to cloud-seeding, by shooting salt flares into clouds to try and trigger rains.

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