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Indonesia accuses two Singaporeans over imported plastic waste

JAKARTA, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Indonesia is accusing two Singaporeans of importing 87 containers of plastic scrap without the correct permits, an official said on Thursday, marking a step up in the country's efforts to crack down on shipments of foreign waste.

Indonesia has tightened customs inspections and sent back containers of plastic trash amid an increase in shipments from Western countries after China banned imports last year.

The two Singaporeans are a director and a commissioner of PT Advance Recycle Technology, a recycling company based in the province of Banten on Java island, the Environment Ministry's director general of law enforcement, Rasio Ridho Sani said. The two were identified only by their initials.

The two were accused of being responsible for importing 87 containers of plastic scrap from Hong Kong, Spain, Canada, Australia and Japan between May and June this year without proper permits, Sani told a news conference.

Some of the waste was found to be contaminated with hazardous items such as printed circuit boards, used remote controls and used batteries, he said.

PT Advance Recycle Technology declined to comment when reached by telephone. The suspects or their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

"We have to protect our community's health and our environment. We don't want our country to be other countries' dump site. We must protect our sovereignty," Sani said.

The case is the first since Indonesia passed a 2009 law on protecting and managing the environment, he said.

The Southeast Asian country already struggles to deal with its own waste, which often goes into landfills or is dumped in rivers. Indonesia is the second biggest contributor of plastic pollutants in the ocean after China, a 2015 study in the journal Science showed.

A person found guilty of illegally importing hazardous and toxic material could face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to 15 billion rupiah ($1.06 million), Sani said.

Restrictions on importing plastic scrap have been resisted by some.

A plastics lobby group complained in August that increased inspections had held up material, resulting in a plunge in exports of recycled plastic products. Imported waste also provides a livelihood for thousands in a village in East Java.

($1 = 14,185.0000 rupiah) (Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe Writing by Gayatri Suroyo Editing by Ed Davies and Frances Kerry)