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NEWS UPDATES 15 June 2009

Malaysia to help Indonesia control haze problem

Malaysia has offered to help Indonesia curb forest fires blamed for the choking haze that shrouds the region each year, media reports said, as air quality fell in the country, reported AFP.

In the dry season, Indonesian farmers burn forests to clear land for agriculture, causing a smoky haze that spreads across the region, affecting tourism and increasing health problems.

"We have special aeroplanes which can be used to carry out water bombing," the Sunday Star quoted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as saying.

"It is up to the Indonesian government to accept it," the premier told the newspaper, as he urged Malaysians to avoid open burning.

Malaysian environment authorities said air quality and visibility in parts of the country over the past week fell from "good" to "moderate."

On Sunday morning, the environment department said 22 out of 49 areas it monitored were "moderate," an improvement from Friday when three areas including capital Kuala Lumpur were "unhealthy."

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

Environment ministers from Singapore, Malaysia and other regional nations have urged Indonesia promptly to ratify a regional treaty aimed at preventing cross-border haze pollution.

Malaysia said last year that it will help Indonesian farmers practise safer farming methods, to help curb the forest fires, by sending experts to the fire-prone Riau region on Indonesia's Sumatra island.

The haze hit its worst level in 1997-98, costing the region an estimated nine billion dollars by disrupting air travel, tourism and other business activities as smoke enveloped the region.


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