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Haze update: Malaysia's Palanivel to meet Jakarta next week

Published on Jun 21, 2013 5:14 PM
A motorist is seen through a thick haze on a street in Muar in Malaysia's southern state of Johor on June 21, 2013. A member of Malaysia's ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) has come out to urge the Indonesia government to take immediate action on the haze affecting the region. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's environment minister will travel to Indonesia next Wednesday to meet officials there and discuss how the haze can be addressed, as air quality reached hazardous levels in parts of Malaysia, forcing the closing of hundreds of schools amid health fears.

The visit will follow a similar one from his counterpart in Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who called on Indonesia's environment minister, Professor Balthasar Kambuaya, on Friday to discuss the haze and offer assistance to tackle the problem. The haze has sent Singapore's Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) to record levels in the past week.

The announcement that Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel will go for haze talks in Indonesia also comes after a member of Malaysia's ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) came out to urge the Indonesia government to take immediate action.

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) is believed to be the first political party in Malaysia to do so.

Prime Minister Najib Ibrahim has refrained from publicly blaming Jakarta for the haze, although air quality has reached hazardous levels in parts of the country, forcing a total of 589 schools in Muar, Batu Pahat, Pasir Gudang and Pontian in Johor to close, according to the official Bernama news agency.

“It is important that Asean nations work together in a spirit of co-operation to tackle this problem," a Malaysian government spokesman late on Friday afternoon, in the announcement of Mr Palanivel's Wednesday visit to Jakarta

“Malaysian-owned companies operating in Indonesia should abide by all local laws and regulations, and ensure they do not contribute to environmental degradation.”

In an earlier press conference on Friday, MCA told reporters that it is drafting a memorandum to pressure the Indonesian government to act and will submit this memo to the embassy.

When asked when this will happen, MCA central committee member Loh Seng Kok said that “it will be next week. We will let you know”.

At the press conference, he also urged Jakarta to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in the spirit of co-operation and to accept the offer of firefighters from Malaysia and other assistance from Singaporea.

“They must take steps to reduce and control the burning," said Mr Loh, who is also deputy chairman of MCA's publicity bureau.

Malaysia was the first country to ratify the Asean haze agreement, which was signed in Kuala Lumpur in 2002. Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have also ratified it. Only Indonesia has not yet done so.

MCA's chief of the Segamat district in Johor, Dr Lee Hong Tee also “urged the Malaysian government to see the Indonesian government about handling this issue" of the haze.

"Tell Indonesia that our tolerance of the burning activities, haze has limits. They have to take serious action,” Dr Lee said.