Jakarta, Indonesia — Indonesia will sign a Southeast Asian treaty to fight annual brush fires that are once again sending choking smoke across parts of Malaysia and Singapore, a presidential spokesman said Thursday.
The announcement came before an emergency meeting of environment ministers from five regional nations to discuss how to tackle the illegally set blazes, which have plagued the three countries and sometimes Thailand during the dry season since the 1990s.
Indonesia is the only country in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations that has not ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which the group approved in 2002.
A presidential spokesman, Dino Djalal, said Indonesia would sign the deal. “It will take a legal process, but that is a process we will undergo,” he said, without saying when.
The agreement would result in the establishment of a regional coordinating center capable of reacting quickly to the smoke. Malaysia has publicly called on Indonesia to sign the deal and to do more to fight the blazes.
The fires on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and its portion of Borneo are mostly set by farmers or companies as a cheap way to clear land for plantations. Often on peat land, they smolder for weeks or months.
Across large parts of both areas Thursday, motorists were forced to use headlights in the daytime. All flights from and to at least one Borneo airport were canceled until Saturday due to poor visibility, a local aviation official said.
The meeting is taking place Friday in Pekanbaru in Riau Province, one of the worst-hit regions.
Firefighters are trying to extinguish the blazes, and the police have arrested scores of landowners in recent weeks. However, officials said seasonal rains, forecast to fall in the next few weeks, were the only way to snuff the fires out.
Singapore’s skies remained hazy Thursday, though less so than over the weekend, when the city-state recorded its worst air quality reading this year.