Kuala Lumpur schools close amid regional spat over haze


Malaysia suspended classes in schools in the capital and surrounding areas Monday as haze triggered by Indonesian forest and plantation fires worsened.

The air pollutant index in Kuala Lumpur and several neighbouring states reached “unhealthy levels,” the Education Ministry said.

Prime Minister Najib Razak urged people in haze-affected areas to minimize outdoor activities and to use face masks when going out of their houses.

It is the second time this month that schools in the area around the capital have closed due to the haze, which is an annual hazard for Indonesia’s neighbours Malaysia and Singapore at this time of year.

The closures came after ministers from Indonesia and Singapore argued over who was to blame for not stopping the fires.

Indonesian Minister of Forestry and the Environment Siti Nurbaya Bakar late Sunday urged Singapore to be “fair,” saying her government was doing all it could to extinguish the forest fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands.

“We are not staying idle,” Siti was quoted as saying by state-owned news agency Antara.

“Indonesia is working hard … The president has deployed thousands of soldiers and police [to fight the fires],” she said, adding that air quality in Singapore was measured at unhealthy levels for brief periods, but not constantly.

Indonesian officials had shown “a complete disregard for our people, and their own” in their handling of the fires, Singapore Foreign and Law Minister K Shanmugam said in a Facebook post last week.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Sunday urged Singapore to act on its offer to help fight the fires.

“Singapore can join and see for themselves. Don’t just talk,” Kalla was quoted as saying by Antara during a visit to New York.

Haze from forest fires on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island is blamed on the illegal practice of open burning to clear land by small farmers and plantation companies.

Thick smog has blanketed much of the islands for two months, prompting authorities to close schools and stop some flights.