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Indonesia mobilizes army to douse forest fires

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia will deploy more than 1,000 soldiers and send aircraft to help douse forest fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands, after authorities there declared a state of emergency, a disaster management official said Thursday.

Forest fires have reached emergency levels in seven of Riau province's 12 districts.

Satellite images also showed fires in West and East Kalimantan provinces on the Indonesian part of Borneo and Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra, said Sutopo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.

"It is expected this year's dry season will be dryer than 2013 and forest and brush fires are expected to peak between July and October," he said.

In Riau, fires were mostly burning on peatlands and largely not detected by satellites, he said.

The army had been asked to send about 1200 soldiers to help extinguish the fires together with more than 1,700 members of the Forestry Ministry's forest fire brigade.

Nugruho said two amphibious aircraft and eight helicopters would also drop water on the blazes while other airplanes would release salts into clouds to encourage rain.

Earlier police in Riau arrested 26 people on suspicion of starting some of the fires.

Past fires have been blamed on plantation owners who illegally use the slash-and-burn method to clear land.

Smoke from forest fires on Sumatra is an annual dry season hazard that often affects neighboring Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

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