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Asean haze issue needs ‘best will in the world’

HAZY SKYLINE. Visitors walk through a park near Petronas Towers which is just visible through the haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 23 June 2013. Photo by EPA/Ahmad Yusni

Officials from five Southeast Asian nations have met to discuss the hazardous smog that blights the region every year, but the worst-hit countries have held out little hope of an early solution. Forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in June left neighboring Singapore and Malaysia choking on the worst haze in more than a decade. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in early July the forest fires in Indonesia would take “a very long time” and require “the best will in the world” to eradicate because of the country’s sheer size. The main obstacle appears to be internal Indonesian politics, because slash-and-burn remains the cheapest – albeit illegal – way to clear land for agriculture. Singapore and Malaysia have demanded Indonesia punish those behind the blazes. But Jakarta says some fires have been set in plantations owned by its neighbors, especially Malaysian palm oil firms.

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