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Malaysian air quality drops due to haze from fires in Indonesia
AP (12 Aug 2004)

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: Smoke from fires set to clear land in Indonesia has shrouded much of neighboring Malaysia in haze, causing a marked drop in air quality, news reports and officials said on Thursday.

Visibility in several parts of the country had been reduced to as low as two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the normal 10 kilometers (six miles), a meteorological department official told The Associated Press on customary condition of anonymity.

Air quality in most parts of the country had dipped from "good" to "moderate," The Star daily cited Rosnani Ibrahim, the environment ministry's director-general, as saying. Moderate is the second-best level in five tiers of air-quality ratings from good to dangerous.

"The drop in air quality is caused by particulate matter blowing in from the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan," she told the daily. Rosnani was not immediately available for comment.

In June, smoke from wildfires in Indonesia is drifted across neighboring Malaysia, shrouding Kuala Lumpur and the northern island resort of Penang in thick haze and sending air quality plummeting to the third-tier "unhealthy" level for several days.

Officials blamed the smog on more than one hundred "hot spots"in Sumatra, which is separated from peninsular Malaysia by the narrow Straits of Malacca, and Kalimantan, which borders the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo island.

Deputy Environment Minister S. Sothinathan said Malaysia would again contact the Indonesian government "to express our concern over the recurrence of the haze," The Star reported.

"We will seek their cooperation to put out the fires as soon as possible," Sothinathan told the daily.

Fires set illegally by Indonesian and Malaysian farmers to clear land are blamed for haze that clouds skies in parts of Southeast Asia each dry season.

In 1997-98, fires set mainly on oil palm plantations and agricultural holdings in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces burned out of control for weeks, destroying 10 million hectares (25 million acres) and blanketing Singapore and parts ofMalaysia and Indonesia with thick smoke.

The ecological disaster sparked a diplomatic row, with economic losses estimated at around US$9.3 billion, and prompted a 2002 agreement to fight transborder pollution from forest fires.

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