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. Pressure Intensifies On Indonesia As Meeting Sought Over Haze

A view towards the city from Sentosa Island in Singapore 11 October 2006. Singapore has invited regional environment ministers to discuss "urgent" ways of tackling the smoke haze blighting the region at a meeting, the government said. Indonesia's annual burn-off causes a haze that typically smothers parts of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as well as Indonesia itself. The Indonesian government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak enforcement means the ban is largely ignored. Photo courtesy of Theresa Barraclough and AFP.
by Martin Abbugao
Singapore (AFP) Oct 11, 2006
Pressure intensified on Indonesia to take action on the smoke haze blighting neighbouring countries as Singapore invited regional ministers to discuss "urgent" measures to tackle the problem on Friday. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to "express his disappointment" over the recurring problem, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.

Lee's comments followed criticism Tuesday from Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister Azmi Khalid, whose country has also suffered unhealthy air quality levels because of the haze.

A meeting of environment ministers from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states affected by the haze will be held in Singapore on Friday, the Singaporean leader told Yudhoyono.

The meeting would discuss "urgent and long-term measures" to tackle the smoke haze problem, Singapore's environment ministry said in a separate statement. It said Singapore had invited ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei.

"Its objective is to muster ASEAN's resources to help Indonesia cope with the present haze problem," the foreign ministry said.

The Friday gathering could also help in preparing for an international meeting which Indonesia could convene, "to marshal the expertise and resources needed to help Indonesia and ASEAN tackle the haze problem effectively," it said.

"In his letter, Mr Lee had stated that Indonesia needed to deal with the problem in a timely and effective manner, so that investor confidence in Indonesia, Indonesia's international standing and ASEAN's credibility would not be affected," the ministry said.

"Mr Lee had also noted that while it may be too late this year to prevent the fires that cause the haze, it was critical to take action now in order to prevent future forest fires."

Agus Purnomo, spokesman for Indonesia's environment ministry, said he had heard that the ministry received Singapore's invitation.

He confirmed Indonesia was also planning to hold a regional meeting on haze in Pekanbaru city on Sumatra island's Riau province, near Singapore.

Indonesia's annual burn-off causes a haze that typically smothers parts of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as well as Indonesia itself.

Large corporations clearing forests for palm or timber plantations and small farmers using slash-and-burn methods have been blamed. Azmi said he went to Indonesia in June to discuss the problem and was less than impressed with Jakarta's efforts.

"They informed me they have all the mechanisms in place to prevent haze and put out the fires," he said.

"Of course, when you see the haze now, the conclusion can only be made that whatever mechanisms they have are not effective."

On Saturday Singapore's environment agency issued a health advisory because of the fog-like haze, while earlier this week Malaysia issued a hazard warning for ships plying the Malacca Strait after haze caused visibility to drop along the vital waterway.

In Kuala Lumpur, the Air Pollutant Index hit an unhealthy reading of 159 Monday, forcing people to wear face masks.

The 10-member ASEAN group has drawn up an Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Indonesia has yet to ratify the pact.

Indonesia insisted Tuesday that its efforts to subdue the land-clearing fires have been partially successful. Forestry Minister Malem Kaban said the number of illegal fires had been drastically cut in recent days.

The Indonesian government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Related Links
The Air We Breathe at TerraDaily.com
Save the Forests at Wood Pile

Malaysia Warns Of Resentment As Air Pollution Worsens
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Oct 10, 2006
Malaysia's health minister Monday warned of resentment against Indonesia and economic fallout as thick haze caused by Indonesian forest fires caused a sharp deterioration in air quality. Malaysia also issued a hazard warning for ships plying the Malacca Strait after haze caused visibility to drop along the vital waterway.

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