Jakarta agrees to earlier talks on tackling haze

INDONESIA - Indonesia has agreed to a proposal to bring forward to July 17 a meeting of five Asean countries to tackle the haze, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said after meeting his Malaysian counterpart here on Thursday.

The meeting will take place in Kuala Lumpur, and involves Singapore, Brunei and Thailand as well. It was originally slated for Aug 20, but Malaysia and Singapore asked for an earlier date as forest fires in Riau saw pollutant indexes reach hazardous levels in all three countries.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said Singapore "agrees with Malaysia's proposed date of July 17" for the meeting.

At the Jakarta meeting on Thursday, Malaysian Environment Minister G. Palanivel also handed a letter from Prime Minister Najib Razak to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and offered his country's help with firefighting staff and aircraft.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono said in response that "we are still able to do it ourselves". But he added "we can do training, sharing of knowledge".

Meanwhile, Singapore's Health Minister Gan Kim Yong outlined his ministry's action plans in the event the haze worsens.

The priority will be on three key areas: Maintaining patient safety, meeting the demand of more patients and minimising the disruption to medical services.

Separately, the National Environment Agency said slight haze is expected at the weekend, even though thundery showers are also expected. The 24-hour levels of small, toxic particles called PM2.5 were likely to remain slightly higher than usual on Friday.



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