Kuala Lumpur – The haze problem in Malaysia, caused by fires lit to clear land in neighbouring Indonesia, worsened on Aug 11, with the government declaring a state of haze emergency in two towns in Selangor. The haze, an almost annual occurence, has prompted hundreds of schools to shut, as well as disrupting airports and seriously affecting visibility across the Malacca Strait.
Despite the serious and persistent nature of the problem, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Malaysia would not resort to open conflict with Indonesia.
Instead, Malaysia hopes to seeks ways to overcome the haze problem in the spirit of Asean by continuing to hold talks with Indonesia, Mr Syed Hamid said.
He said taking drastic action towards neighbouring countries would not help boost understanding with each other.
"That's not the way we will adopt. If everyone were to exercise what he thinks is his right, the world will be unstable and there will be a lot of problems and conflicts," Mr Syed Hamid said.
Under the state of emergency, declared in the western towns of Port Klang and Kuala Selangor, all workplaces must close except for those providing essential services and selling food. The Air Pollutant Index (API) in these two areas had reached levels categorized as "hazardous to health".
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the declaration would not involve curfews and there would not be any changes in the system of the Selangor state government's administration.
Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar had apologised to Malaysia over the haze situation. "The haze has become more acute for our neighbours inMalaysia and we are truly sorry for this. We are very concerned about the worsening situation, caused mainly by open burning in Sumatra," he was quoted as saying by The Star on Aug 8.
Mr Rachmat also appealed for help to put out the fires in Indonesia. "My ministry welcomes any help from any Asean member country to put out the fires."
* Malaysia will not resort to open conflict over haze (Bernama, Aug 11)
* Indonesian minister says sorry over worsening haze (The Star, Aug 9)