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Environment

Haze-plagued Malaysia to press companies over Indonesia fires

Mahathir weighs new law and looks to shame culprits with satellite pictures

A woman covers her face with a scarf in front of the Malaysian prime minister's office, which is shrouded in haze, in Putrajaya on Sept. 17.   © Reuters

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- The Malaysian government will draft a dedicated law to penalize local companies that burn their Indonesian plantations, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced, as haze envelops his country and forces the closure of thousands of schools due to dangerously poor air quality.

While Indonesian and Malaysian authorities point fingers at each other for the almost annual haze crisis, Mahathir conceded that Malaysian companies play a role in irresponsible burning of their agricultural estates in Indonesia.

"These Malaysian companies which have estates outside Malaysia are contributing toward the haze" through open burning, Mahathir told reporters on Sept. 18. "We will ask them to take action to put out the fire."

The prime minister said there could be consequences for those that refuse. "But of course, if we find that they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law which would make them responsible for the fires in their property, even if it is outside of Malaysia."

Mahathir also denied writing a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo while the authorities have deliberated at length and "kept blaming each other."

The Malaysian government plans to publicize satellite images of hot spots of open burning in Malaysia and Indonesia, to take the responsible parties to task.

On Sept. 18, all schools in major cities including Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital Putrajaya were closed, as air quality deteriorated to a "very unhealthy" level.

The government has also announced the cancellation of an annual military parade scheduled for Sept. 19, along with almost all open-air events.

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