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NEWS UPDATES 21 May 2009

Malaysia, Singapore may restart talks on new bridge

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Malaysia may revive a proposal to build a new bridge to neighboring Singapore, the Associated Press officials as saying Wednesday.

Prime Minister Najib Razak may raise the issue - a contentious project that was once an irritant in bilateral ties - when he meets his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, on Friday during a two-day visit to the city-state, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said.

"So far it is not on the agenda, but if it is brought up, both sides are willing to discuss it," Anifah told reporters.

A foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to make public statements, said Najib's new administration will likely revive the plan.

Malaysia held talks for several years with Singapore on constructing a bridge to replace a decades-old causeway across the narrow strait between southern Malaysia and its island nation neighbour.

Najib's predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, scrapped the plan in April 2006, saying Malaysians were unhappy that Singapore wanted over-flight rights for its air force planes and other conditions before it would agree to the bridge.

Malaysia and Singapore enjoy close economic and cultural ties, but have a history of diplomatic spats.

The bridge project's cancellation drew accusations from influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that Abdullah had bungled national interests and kowtowed to Singapore's preference to keep the causeway.

Abdullah, who has since faced criticism over other policy missteps that eroded the government's popularity, handed power to Najib last month.

Najib and Lee are expected to focus on trade, investment, security, education and tourism in their meeting, Anifah said.

Anifah was noncommittal when asked if Najib would also inform Singapore whether authorities will hand over a top Islamic militant suspect recently arrested in Malaysia.

"We will make the best possible decision in terms of security of both countries," Anifah said. "There are many instances when some undesirable persons caught in Singapore have been brought to Malaysia and vice versa."

The suspect, Mas Selamat Kastari, escaped by wriggling out of a bathroom window in a high-security Singapore jail on February 27, 2008, severely embarrassing the city-state, known for its rigorous security.

According to authorities, the suspect, accused of being the Singapore commander of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group, was caught again on April 1 this year by security forces in Malaysia's southern Johor state.

Singapore's government has previously accused him of plotting to hijack a plane and fly it into Singapore's international airport.






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