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Malaysia PM to write to Indonesia’s leader as row over haze flares

Indonesian officials caused anger by disputing reports that smog came from their nation

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is writing to Indonesia's leader to raise his concern about cross-border haze, a Malaysian minister said yesterday as a row over smoke from forest fires simmers.

Fires have burned through parts of Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo islands for more than a month, and the Indonesian government has sent thousands of security personnel to try to douse the blazes.

They are usually set during operations to clear land for palm oil and pulp plantations.

In what has become an almost annual occurrence, especially in dry years, Indonesia's neighbours are becoming alarmed by the thick haze wafting in and raising concern about health and the impact on tourism.

But Indonesian officials caused further anger in Malaysia this week by disputing reports that the smoke was coming from their country.

"I have discussed this with the Prime Minister and he has agreed to write a letter to President Jokowi to draw his attention to the issue of trans-boundary haze," Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin told reporters, referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo by his nickname.

Dr Mahathir's office was preparing the letter and it would be delivered soon, Ms Yeo said.

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Wednesday that the problem should be viewed "more objectively" and the smoke could have originated from fires in Malaysia.

In response, Ms Yeo said Malaysia's data was drawn from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, a Singapore-based weather station that tracks forest fire hot spots throughout the region.

Just five hot spots were detected in Malaysia yesterday, compared with more than 1,500 in Indonesia, Ms Yeo said.

"The data clearly shows that the haze is from Indonesia," she said.

On Wednesday, she wrote on Facebook: "...Minister Siti Nurbaya should not be in denial".

Several areas in Malaysia, especially on the west coast of the peninsula and west Sarawak, have been shrouded in smoke over the past week as a result of the haze.

Twenty-nine schools in Selangor will be closed today following the worsening air quality.

This is a jump from just five schools closed yesterday, said the Selangor Education Department in a statement.

This is in line with a ministry circular that requires a school to close when the Air Pollution Index reading in the area breaches the 200 mark, which is in the very unhealthy range, the Selangor Education Department said.

Sarawak in Malaysia and parts of Riau province in Indonesia closed hundreds of schools earlier this week.

In Singapore, the National Environment Agency yesterday said the haze could get worse as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) could enter the unhealthy range, the first time this year.

The one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings were expected to range between normal and elevated.

The PSI was forecast to be in the moderate range but may enter the unhealthy range if the winds turn unfavourable and the haze situation in Sumatra persists. - REUTERS, THE STAR, THE STRAITS TIMES

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