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Singapore to Indonesia: Stop sending us your smog.

Air pollution in Singapore rose to unhealthy levels this week because of illegal forest clearing in Indonesia, prompting Singapore to urge Indonesia to do something to end the haze.

By Correspondent / June 20, 2013

A masked man walks as the sun sets among buildings covered with haze at the Singapore Central Business District Thursday, June 20, 2013. Singapore urged people to remain indoors amid unprecedented levels of air pollution Thursday as a smoky haze wrought by forest fires in neighboring Indonesia worsened dramatically.

Joseph Nair/AP

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JAKARTA, Indonesia

Cloudy skies in Jakarta were no match for the breathtaking haze that hit Singapore on Thursday as air-pollution levels rose to record highs and sparked a war of words between diplomats in both countries over who should shoulder the blame.

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Indonesia Correspondent

Sara Schonhardt is a Monitor contributor based in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she has been reporting since 2009. Sara previously worked for various media in Thailand and Cambodia and received her master’s degree from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

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Companies have asked employees to work from home, the military has stopped training outdoors, and pictures of Singapore's iconic Marine Bay Sands towers barely visible through the haze have been splashed across social media platforms and newspapers.

Despite the international blame game, the immediate cause was clear enough: fires used to clear land in Sumatra for farming and palm oil plantations. A local meteorological agency reported nearly 150 hotspots alone in Riau Province, itself a hotspot for mining, logging, and palm oil production.

Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace released a statement saying that the fires illustrated how Indonesia’s government policies aimed at reducing deforestation had failed since half of them were in areas off-limits to land clearing.

Each year slash and burn practices in Indonesia shroud neighboring Singapore and Malaysia in thick haze. As deforestation has accelerated in recent years, it has worsened.

On Thursday, Singapore sent a delegation from its environmental agency to Jakarta to call for immediate action. Singapore’s environment minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, issued an angry statement on his Facebook page saying no country or corporation “has the right to pollute the air at the expense of Singaporeans’ health and well-being.” 

But Indonesia shot back its own statement: Singapore should stop “behaving like a child,” said Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Agung Laksono, who oversees fire response.

Mr. Balakrishnan had asked the Indonesian government to name and shame the companies involved in the illegal burning. But Indonesia’s forestry ministry launched back, saying Singapore and Malaysia shared the responsibility for putting pressure on the resource extraction industry since many of companies were based in their countries.

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