Environment ministers from haze-hit Southeast Asian nations are gathering in Indonesia to discuss ways to combat annual blazes that create a choking cloud of smoke over the region.

Ministers from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei are meeting Friday in the Indonesian town of Pekanbara on Sumatra island, one of the worst areas hit by haze each year.

Jakarta said Thursday that it would sign a regional treaty to boost cooperation in tackling the problem. President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono apologized earlier this week for the smoke that has blanketed the region.

Malaysia, Singapore and other regional neighbors have been calling on Indonesia to take serious action against the fires, lit each year by plantation companies and farmers to clear land.

The haze hit its worst levels from 1997 to 1998, costing the Southeast Asian region $9 billion in losses from declines in tourism and business activities.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.