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Malaysia welcomes Indonesia's ratification of Asean haze pact

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 18 (Bernama) -- Malaysia has welcomed as a positive move Indonesia's ratification of the Asean Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel as well as environmental experts see the ratification as reflecting Indonesia's seriousness in wanting to tackle the cross-border haze caused by forest fires.

They expressed the belief that Indonesia is prepared to address the haze problem effectively, thus strengthening bilateral ties with neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore which get badly affected by the phenomenon.

Palanivel said Malaysia had been waiting for Indonesia to ratify the pact in order to jointly combat the annual occurrence of haze in the region.

"This shows Indonesia's commitment and strong will to mitigate the trans-boundary haze pollution; cooperation among countries is a concrete and possible way forward," he told Bernama.

Indonesia's parliament voted on Tuesday to ratify the regional agreement, 12 years after the government had signed it.

The agreement was drawn up after the worst haze on record occurred in 1997. The cause of the pollution was the slash-and-burn clearing of forests in Indonesia to prepare land for planting of crops, particularly oil palm.

The other nine Asean member countries had ratified the agreement as of June 2013. All the Asean countries signed the pact in June 2002 in Kuala Lumpur.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu vice-chancellor Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Ibrahim Komoo welcomed the ratification, saying that joint responsibility within Asean was necessary to overcome trans-boundary haze pollution efficiently.

The ratification provided a ray of hope for neighbouring countries, especially Malaysia and Singapore, the two nations worst-affected by the smoke from the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, he said.

"It will help Malaysia by having better cooperation and collaboration between the professionals involved in finding a solution. It's better to be late than never to have awareness on the environment," he told Bernama.

In 1997, the Malaysian government sent hundreds of fire-fighters to help Indonesia extinguish the haze-causing forest fires.

Ibrahim, who is the head of the Cluster on Natural Resources and Environment of the think tank, the National Council of Professors, dismissed claims that the Indonesian ratification was a political move.

He said the historic move displayed Indonesia's genuine intention to handle and solve the annual haze problem.

"I hope it will help strengthen bilateral and diplomatic ties with Malaysia and Singapore that were badly affected due to the haze from Sumatra (in June) last year," he said.

Indonesia had claimed then that Malaysian and Singaporean companies with plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan were among those which had started the land-clearing fires.

The fires sent the smog levels beyond the hazardous point, and Indonesia's then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologised to Malaysia and Singapore.

Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Talib Latif of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said the agreement would help to reduce air pollution caused by biomass burning during the Southwest Monsoon between June and September every year.

"Biomass burning in peat soil in Sumatra and Kalimantan has been identified as the main factor for the haze in peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak every year," said Mohd Talib of the university's School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology.

"The ratification of this agreement shows the commitment of Indonesia to mitigate the haze problem in Southeast Asia," he said.

Mohd Talib said it was hard to reduce biomass burning, particularly during the dry season, due to the low water level in peat soil.

"We only have the problem of air pollution during the Southwest Monsoon, when the wind moves towards us (Malaysia). Indonesia has this problem every time during the dry season.

"They also have problems from volcanic eruptions, which is more dangerous than biomass burning," he said.

The expert said there should be more commitment and enforcement from Asean government agencies in order to reduce haze pollution in Southeast Asia.

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