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Tuesday October 10, 2006

Indonesia says it's winning battle against haze-producing forest fires

JAKARTA: Indonesia said it was winning the battle against haze-producing fires that shrouded skies in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. 

Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban said thousands of land-clearing fires illegally started by farmers or agricultural companies on Borneo and Sumatra islands have been doused in the last three days. 

But smoke from the blazes will continue to linger until heavy winds or rain - not expected for another three weeks - help clear the air.  

Singapore is also affected by the haze. 

"We admit we haven't been able to resolve the problem completely,'' Kaban told reporters in the Indonesian capital. 

"But we have managed to cut the number of hotspots from 6,000 to 600 in the last three days by using water bombs and soliciting the help of residents, soldiers and forestry officials on the ground. We have made progress.'' 

Malaysian opposition party members protested outside the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, saying Jakarta needed to do more to put an end to the lingering, stifling haze. 

Respiratory illnesses in the hardest-hit state of Sarawak rose a third over the past two months, the state health department said, while authorities began to mobilise health services to deal with the increase. 

The dry season haze is a perennial problem for the region.  

The worst case occurred in 1997-98, when smoke from land-clearing in Sumatra blanketed much of the region and was blamed for losses of nearly US$9 billion in tourism, health and business. - AP

For Another perspective from the Jakarta Post, a partner of Asia News Network, click here

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