Malaysian PM to write to Indonesia's leader as row over haze flares

A view of the city skyline shrouded by haze in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 11

A view of the city skyline shrouded by haze in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 11

Malaysia's environment minister Yeo Bee Yin has shot back at her Indonesian counterpart, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, for denying that haze from her country was blanketing Malaysia and blaming it instead on fires in Sarawak and the Peninsula.

On Monday, Yeo had said that the root of the haze problem was the fires in Indonesia and that her ministry was working the Foreign Affairs Ministry to send diplomatic notes to the Indonesian government on the urgency to put out the fires.

Indonesian authorities closed an airport on Sumatra island on Friday due to poor visibility caused by smoke from raging fires burning through peatland, while schools in several provinces, as well as in neighbouring Malaysia, were suspended due to the hazardous haze.

In 2015 Indonesia suffered its worst forest fires for nearly two decades, which dramatically increased its greenhouse gas emissions.

At least four of the plantations are subsidiaries of Malaysia companies.

Sime Darby is the world's largest oil palm planter by land size and the largest producer of sustainable palm oil. Sukses Karya Sawit, Rafi Kamajaya Abadi and Adei Plantation and Industry could not be reached.

Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo was quoted as saying on Friday: "We hope Indonesia will be responsible for the fires in their own country".

Forest fires have become an nearly annual occurence in Indonesia, especially in dry years, and Indonesia's neighbors have complained of the thick, choking haze wafting in, raising concern about health and the impact on tourism. "Most importantly, the forest fires must be extinguished as soon as possible", she said.

There were 1,619 hotspots detected on the Indonesian part of Borneo and Sumatra up from 861 a day earlier, according to a tally from the centre, which monitors forest fires and smog outbreaks.

Transboundary smoke from forest fires in Indonesia is choking the region, with the air quality deteriorating to very unhealthy levels in many parts of Malaysia.

According to Siti Nurbaya, based on the report from the Indonesian Meteorological, Climatological, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG), smoke or haze from the fire in Kalimantan was detected to cross into Malaysia for only one hour on Sept 8.

"I only asked that they (Malaysians) be objective and sequential in their data analysis", she told Reuters on Friday, responding to Kuala Lumpur's remarks that it was using recent data from ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre.

The number of blazes in Indonesia's rainforests has jumped sharply, satellite data showed Thursday, spreading smog across Southeast Asia and adding to concerns about the impact of increasing wildfire outbreaks worldwide on global warming.

"Let the data speak for itself", she said in a Facebook post, indicating figures from the ASEAN centre which showed only a handful of hotspots in Malaysia compared to the hundreds in Indonesia.

Bakar said she was not seeking to look for excuses but did not "have time for polemics" and would rather work on putting out fires that she said covered a "huge" area.

Jakarta had deployed 46 helicopters for water bombing and cloud seeding, Bakar said.