August 14, 2005

Haze in northern Malaysia persists, criticism grows

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A choking smog persisted over
northern Malaysia on Sunday as Kuala Lumpur lashed out at
Indonesia's handling of forest fires causing the haze.

Environment officials said the northern states of Penang,
Perlis, Kedah and Perak were still badly hit by the smoke blown
in from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia's Sumatra.

Malaysia on Saturday lifted a state of emergency in two
areas near the capital after air pollution levels drifted below
the danger mark, easing the nation's worst pollution crisis in
8 years.

Changing winds dispersed the smog to the northern states,
forcing flag carrier Malaysian Airline System to cancel six
flights to the northern cities on Saturday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the
government would remain on alert due to raging fires in
Sumatra, separated from Malaysia by the narrow Malacca strait.

"With the unpredictable wind patterns and presence of fire,
anything can happen," he said.

But the harshest word came from Foreign Minister Syed Hamid
Albar, who said the health of Malaysians was at stake.

"Indonesia must be made aware of the extent of our people's
sufferings," he told the New Sunday Times in an interview.

"They need to take quick action as Malaysians are actually
dying because of the haze."

Abdullah last week rang Indonesian leader Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono as well as asked Malaysians to pray for divine
intervention to stop the haze that had threatened public
health, grounded some flights, disrupted shipping, and shut

The haze had also spread to the hill station of Cameron
Highlands in Malaysia's central Pahang state but business had
been spared.

"There have been no cancellations. Last night we were full
and the day before as well," said Krishna Badhur, a manager at
The Lakehouse hotel.

"Probably we are much luckier being at such a high
altitude...You have mist in the highlands anyway, so you can't
differentiate," he said.