Published June 29, 2013
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AFP) – The foreign ministers of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia met Saturday to discuss solutions to the choking smog coming from forest fires in Sumatra ahead of a regional security forum.
The three ministers are in the Brunei capital Bandar Seri Begawan for a series of annual meetings under the banner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that kick off on Sunday.
Foreign ministers Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, Anifah Aman of Malaysia and K. Shanmugam of Singapore met behind closed doors shortly after arriving in the tiny sultanate.
The thick smog that recently smothered Singapore and parts of Malaysia is expected to be a key issue at the ASEAN gathering, with Indonesia under pressure to do more to stop the setting of fires to clear land for agriculture on its huge island of Sumatra.
Palls of smoke from such burning pushed pollution levels to record highs in Singapore earlier this month, shrouding a city known for its clean environment.
The recurring smog, dubbed "the haze" in the region, also badly affected parts of Malaysia.
Haze is an annual problem during the dry season but this year's outbreak has been the worst in years, raising temperatures between Indonesia and its neighbours.
Indonesia is the only member of the 10-country ASEAN bloc yet to ratify a 2002 treaty on preventing "trans-boundary" haze pollution. Jakarta has said its parliament was in the process of ratification.
Singapore and Malaysia have demanded that Indonesia punish those behind the blazes. Jakarta has hit back, saying some fires are on plantations owned by Singaporean and Malaysian business interests.
Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan has said 14 people were arrested on suspicion of starting fires, 11 of whom were linked to plantation companies and three of whom were smallholders.
The skies in Singapore and the parts of Malaysia that were affected have cleared due to rains and favourable winds, but officials in the two countries have warned that the smog could return.