Meeting to clear air over Malaysian firms and open burning

KUALA LUMPUR - A meeting will be held with representatives of Malaysian companies involved with plantation activities in Sumatra, Indonesia, to clear the air over alleged open burning blamed for the haze affecting Malaysia and Singapore.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palani-vel said it would be held in Kuala Lumpur on July 9 and would in-clude Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.

"We will be holding talks to determine the extent of their activities in Sumatra and how to deal with the problem of open burning," Palanivel told reporters after presenting the Forestry Department's Forester Monitoring Certificates to 74 forest rangers here. He said the companies had denied their involvement in open burning as they had adopted a zero burning policy.

Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya had said eight Malaysian companies, including Sime Darby, were being investigated for open burning activities.

Sime Darby backed up its denial with satellite imagery of its plantations in Sumatra.

On a related issue, Palanivel said ASEAN environment ministers would hold a three-day talk on how to deal with the annual haze woes affecting the region.

He said ministers would press Indonesia to ratify a 2002 joint agreement to ensure compliance with measures to deal with open-burning and the haze.

On a separate issue, Palanivel said efforts to protect 4.7 million hectares of permanent forest reserve and wildlife in peninsular Malaysia were hampered by the lack of Forestry Department rangers.

"The department has only 200 of them and it is impossible for them to monitor such a large area against illegal logging and wildlife poachers," he said.

He said that talks were underway with the Public Services Department to double the department's enforcement manpower.

"However, such a move requires the cooperation of the respective state governments as the rangers' salaries are borne by the state."

Palanivel said there were also plans to increase the forest reserve area by a million hectares.

On wildlife conservation, Palanivel said the ministry was also considering a proposal under the National Tiger Plan to create tiger parks or sanctuaries, such as in India, to better monitor and protect the endangered animal.

For more haze updates from AsiaOne, click here: