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M’sia may compel firms to put out fires abroad

Dr M says companies should tackle fires on land they control abroad

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia may have to pass a law forcing firms to tackle fires on land that they control abroad.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said this as all schools in Selangor, Penang, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur were shut for 48 hours starting today, due to the worsening air quality.

Dr Mahathir said his government would call on the Malaysian companies to put out the fires first, Reuters reported.

"But of course, if we find that they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that will make them responsible for fires on their properties, even if... outside of Malaysia," he said.

He added that his government may even make satellite data mapping of the regional locations of fire outbreaks and other information about haze hot spots available on official channels, reported the Malay Mail.

He said: "Our people have already raised this matter with Indonesian ministers, but they claim that the haze is originating from Malaysia. That is why I said we should publish maps showing satellite pictures of the actual hot spots."

The haze in the states that closed their schools hit the "very unhealthy" mark after it passed 200 on Malaysia's pollution index, which prompted the Education Ministry to act.

The Selangor Disaster Management and Relief Committee said extended exposure to the haze will increase health risks to high-risk groups, particularly children, senior citizens, heart and lung patients, and pregnant women.

In Indonesia, complaints about the haze have been more muted but that could be changing if the reaction to a government campaign launched to support the palm oil industry is anything to go by, reported Reuters.

"The government should stop using the 'palm oil is a very productive crop' card to justify its negligence on the poor management of existing palm oil plantations," wrote one Twitter user.

Ms Sheany, a journalist based in Bali, who uses only one name, said it was "bizarre" that the authorities were launching their campaign to make palm oil look good at this time.

"So many Indonesians living in those areas are choking," she said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo also did not mince words. He said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that the forest fires in Riau would not have broken out if preventive measures were put in place earlier.

He added that the first few hot spots spotted should have been extinguished before the fires spread to form hundreds of hot spots.

"Government agencies at various levels and security agencies are capable of taking preventive measures to control the fires from spreading.

"(But) what is the problem? The problem lies with ineffective cooperation and initiatives that are not optimal.

"I have on numerous occasions reminded that the prevention of land and forest fires is vital," he wrote. - AFP, REUTERS

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