(Malaysian teacher Zainudin Selamat tells a father and his children that school is closed for two days due to haze in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2005. )
Malaysia sought crisis talks with its biggest neighbor on Thursday as Indonesian forest fires smothered peninsular Malaysia in a choking haze, threatening public health and raising fears for its economy.
Much of peninsular Malaysia, including the capital, has been shrouded in thick smog for a week, presenting the country with its worst pollution crisis since 1997, when smoke mainly from Indonesian forest fires blocked out skies across Southeast Asia.
Malaysia sent its environment and commodities ministers on Thursday to the Sumatran city of Medan where, according to Malaysian media, they were due to meet Indonesia's forestry minister and officials from its environment ministry.
"I am going there to go on site and see what is happening," Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Peter Chin told Reuters by phone on Thursday as he prepared to fly to Sumatra.
Fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which is a short ferry-ride away from peninsular Malaysia's west coast, flare up around this time every year as farmers, plantation owners and miners burn forests to clear land during the dry season.
Asthma attacks have soared and tourists are holing up in their hotels or seeking refuge in air-conditioned shopping malls at one of the busiest times for the country's tourism industry.
Schools in worst-affected areas are closed for the rest of the week and a major port operator on the west coast suspended operations on Wednesday evening. An airport on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was closed on Wednesday for five hours.
A ship was reported to have run aground this week, and vessels plying the Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest sea lanes, are warned to take care because of poor visibility.
The government has said it will declare an emergency if the pollution index hits 500, a level considered hazardous. Kuala Lumpur registered 181 on Wednesday, with Putrajaya, the administrative capital, at 224, and Port Klang at 410.
Malaysia is starting to publish daily pollution measurements, reversing a 1997 decision to keep the figures secret out of fears this would scare off tourism, a major industry generating 29.65 billion ringgit ($7.92 billion) in income last year.
The haze has hurt the local stock market, dragging down shares in the airport, airlines and tourism industries.
(Source: Reuters/Photo Spurce:Yahoo)