JAKARTA -- Many of the forest fires ravaging Indonesia are being used as a weapon in disputes over land rights between big companies and local farmers, according to a report published here on Tuesday.
The report by the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, based in Bogor near Jakarta, said many of the blazes had been "deliberately started as a weapon in social conflict".
"At the heart of this problem are conflicts over land, resulting from unclear and insecure property rights and land-allocation policies that take too little account of established -- albeit informal -- local claims," said the report. It was compiled following the Alternative to Slash-and-Burn Programme launched by scientists from 15 countries after the last major Indonesian forest fires in 1994. The group carries out three programmes in west Africa, South-east Asia and Latin America.
"Millions of people live in the forestland areas but because they have no security of tenure, they can be evicted at any time to make way for development projects," the study said.
"Large companies had been known to burn land to drive out smallholders. Smallholders have been known to burn trees established by large companies to retaliate against perceived injustice. In these conflicts, fire is a powerful weapon for both planters and farmers.
"Aside from contributing to social conflict, 'land grabs' by large companies that displace local people also undermine incentives at the community level to prevent, report and fight fires," it added.
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