Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Indonesian president Joko Widodo addressing the press after a meeting with Jokowi at the Indonesian presidential palace in Bogor, as part of a two-day working visit to Indonesia. Pix by Yazit Razali

JAKARTA: Indonesian president Joko Widodo today expressed regret to Malaysia over the haze which has blanketed the region over the past two months, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

According to Najib, Joko, or more popularly known as Jokowi, appeared "under pressure and embarrassed" by the forest and plantation fires raging on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, leading to unhealthy air quality levels in neighbouring countries including Singapore and Malaysia.

The Indonesian government led by Jokowi has been criticised for failing to contain the fires, which have grown into an annual problem in the region.

When asked whether Jokowi apologised, Najib responded: "Indirectly. I think he understood (the problem), and he felt embarrassed and under pressure."

"It's a complicated problem - it's not (Joko's) intention to allow the burning (to continue)," he added.

Najib was speaking to reporters after meeting with Jokowi at the Indonesian presidential palace in Bogor, as part of a two-day working visit to the country.

Defending Jokowi, Najib said land clearing in Indonesia was too expensive with many poor workers forced to resort to harmful techniques such as slash-and-burn, leading to major fires.

"The reality is that it's 40 times more expensive to clear land without slash-and-burn. But it's being carried out on large tracts of land and when it's combined with drought brought on by El Nino, it leads to fires which have spread quickly," he said.

Najib said Malaysia had recommended the use of tube wells as a long-term measure to help Indonesia mitigate fires on peat soil.

The method, he said, was used widely in Malaysia and could be seen as an alternative method to the water canals proposed by Indonesia as part of the country's effort to curb fires.

"The tube wells will help to dampen the soil in areas that are in danger of burning. We believe it will also be a faster method compared to the water canals, which will take three years before they are seen to be effective."

"This is too long for both countries, because it means we will have to face the threat of haze for another three years," he said.

Najib said both countries viewed the haze problem seriously, given its effects on their citizens.

"I told Jokowi that the haze threatens the Malaysian people's interests, especially in areas such as health, transport and education, with schools having to be closed and so on.

"It has also affected economic and social activities," he said.