Indonesia fires rage out of control

THE SMOG which blighted large areas of South-East Asia last year is returning to parts of Malaysia as forest fires burn out of control on Indonesian territory in the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, writes Richard Lloyd Parry.

At a meeting of South-East Asian environment ministers yesterday the Malaysian representative reported a reappearance of the haze in Sabah and Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo. Last year the smog caused lung problems, drove away tourists and contributed to fatal accidents in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and the Philippines. A report published yesterday said the haze caused $1.4bn (pounds 875m) of damage, $1bn of it in Indonesia, and $300m in Malaysia, most of it as a result of damage to health and lost tourism and industrial production. About 1,000 forest fires are burning in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, and they have killed or put to flight endangered species such as orang-utans and proboscis monkeys.

Last year's problem strained generally harmonious relations between Indonesia and its neighbours. Yesterday, the Singaporean Straits Times, a mouthpiece for the government, said no excuses would be accepted this time.

"What is at stake now is ... Indonesia's reputation as a nation that can be relied on to fulfil its international commitments."