Indonesia on Friday rejected Malaysian complaints about hazardous smoke drifting from its forest fires across the border, saying blazes were also raging in parts of Malaysia and on Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia.
In an escalating row over the smoke haze, a Malaysian minister said on Thursday that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad would write to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo to raise concerns about cross-border haze.
Malaysia closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak this week, after the smoke built up to unhealthy levels.
Air quality in Indonesian towns closest to the fires have risen to hazardous levels and on Wednesday thousands held mass Islamic prayer for rain.
Forest fires have become an almost annual occurence in Indonesia, especially in dry years, and Indonesia’s neighbours have complained of the thick, choking haze wafting in, raising concern about health and the impact on tourism.
Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar on Friday said she felt Malaysia had not painted an objective picture of the flames, which have ripped through parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands for more than a month.
Siti Nurbaya said while smog from fires in Indonesia may have crossed over to Malaysia, fires detected last week in the Malaysian state of Sarawak in Borneo and peninsular Malaysia also contributed to worsening air quality there.
“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 Specialized Meteorological Centre.
Malaysia’s Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin in a post on her Facebook page on Thursday evening said Indonesia “should not be in denial” and data should speak for itself.
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