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Indonesia President Apologizes for Haze Caused by Forest Fires

Indonesia's president has apologized to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore for the thick cloud of haze caused by forest fires in his country.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said late Monday his government is doing all it can to fight the fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Jakarta has already sent airplanes and helicopters to deal with the land-clearing blazes, started by farmers in peat swamp forests and plantations.

The smoke created a week-long environmental crisis in Singapore, where air quality has finally improved after having reached levels considered life-threatening to the sick and elderly.

The cloud is now moving north over Malaysia, where it has forced schools in Kuala Lumpur to close on Tuesday and prompted many to wear face masks or stay indoors.



On Sunday, Malaysia declared a state of emergency in two parts of the southern state of Johor, after pollution levels reached their highest levels in 16 years.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned the haze could persist until the end of the dry season on Sumatra Island in September or October.

The haze has prompted a war of words between Singapore and Indonesia, where officials have called on Jakarta to take "decisive action" against companies suspected of starting the fires.

Indonesia has defended its response, saying it is investigating companies suspected of setting the fires and trying to educate plantation owners about alternatives to traditional burning methods.

Some in Jakarta also initially bristled at the criticism by Singapore. Last week, Indonesian Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono accused the city-state of acting like a "child" in responding to the crisis.

But President Yudhoyono's statement appeared to be an attempt to lessen diplomatic tension. He said Indonesia accepts it is his country's responsibility to deal with the problem, and asked for the understanding of the people of Malaysia and Singapore.

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