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Indonesia names two Chinese suspects in nickel smelter fire

JAKARTA (Reuters) -- Indonesia police on Monday said two Chinese nationals had been named as suspects in an investigation into the cause of a nickel smelter fire on Sulawesi island that killed 21 people.

The Southeast Asian country, the world's biggest nickel producer, has suffered a number of fatal industrial incidents in recent years amid a rapid push to build up its smelting and processing sector.

The fire, on Dec. 24, broke out at a furnace in a smelter operated by Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS), located in the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP).

Indonesia's largest nickel hub is owned by China's Tsingshan and local partner Bintang Delapan Group, which produces crude metals from nickel, stainless steel and other steel products.

Central Sulawesi police spokesperson Djoko Wienartono identified the two male suspects only by their initials.

One is a furnace supervisor at a different smelter at the industrial park who was on secondment at ITSS, Djoko said. The other is also employed by another company in park, he said.

Djoko said the men were charged with negligence leading to fire, injuries and death but did not elaborate on what specific role they are alleged to have had in the blaze.

IMIP did not respond to a request for comment.

Indonesia's Manpower Ministry is conducting a separate investigation into the fire. Minister Ida Fauziyah said last month there was a strong indication that a violation of safety procedures led to the fire, without giving details.