Tue, Dec 14, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Singapore's envoy to Malaysia to deal with issues quickly

AFP , PUTRAJAYA

Malaysia and Singapore signalled a breakthrough yesterday in a deadlock over a series of disputes which have long soured relations between the two neighbors.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Singapore's former premier Goh Chok Tong presented an upbeat assessment of chances of resolving the issues in revived negotiations after a two-hour meeting in Malaysia's administrative capital of Putrajaya.

"[The issues] are not very difficult," Abdullah told a joint news conference with Goh, who is now Singapore's special envoy to Malaysia, a position created in October to capitalize on rapidly improving relations.

"We believe they can be resolved as quickly as possible. We are aware that we do not have a definite agreement in terms of details but the agreement we have together is that we have to move forward," Abdullah said.

Goh told reporters that one of the general principles agreed upon was that solutions must lead to mutual benefits and not disadvantage the other party.

"We must not allow future relationships between Singapore and Malaysia to be held hostage by past issues. We are happy we are able to move the process forward on old issues," he said.

Separated by the narrow Johor Strait, the two nations have endured an uneasy relationship since Singapore's ejection from the Malaysian federation in 1965, but signs of a rapprochement have grown since the retirement last year of Malaysia's former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Among the wide range of disputes are the price of raw water that Malaysia supplies to Singapore, rival claims to a rocky islet, the future of Malaysian-owned railway land inside Singapore and a proposed new bridge linking the two countries.

Negotiations were deadlocked under Mahathir in 2002, but his notoriously confrontational negotiating style has been replaced by Abdullah's more diplomatic approach.

He and Goh announced that they had agreed that ministers and officials would resume talks ahead of another meeting between the two men in two months' time.

"The discussions certainly have been successful from the point of view that we are moving forward and not allowing it to stall," Abdullah said.

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