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NEWS UPDATES 24 May 2009

Malaysia, Singapore to boost ties

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Singapore and Malaysia agreed to step up bilateral cooperation while trying to resolve territorial and other issues dating back to their bitter separation in 1965, AFP quoted their prime ministers as saying.

Visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak met his Singapore counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, and "we both agreed that the legacy issues should not be in the way of us moving ahead," Najib said at a joint press conference.

"I think we both recognise this... there is much, much more to gain from productive and co-operative arrangements rather than allowing these things to hamper and even dampen the relationship."

Lee said he had fruitful talks with Najib, who arrived Thursday on his first official visit to Singapore since becoming prime minister last month.

"We covered a range of areas of cooperation between our two countries," said Lee, who described the state of bilateral relations as "warm".

Both leaders agreed that their foreign ministers should meet in a bid to resolve outstanding issues.

Bilateral ties have been periodically rocked by disputes since Singapore was ejected from the Malaysian federation in August 1965 -- an episode that still rankles on both sides.

The rows included the price of water that Malaysia supplies to the city-state, Singapore's military access to Malaysian airspace and the future of Malaysian-owned railway land jutting deep into the city-state.

Malaysia's ambitions to build a new bridge to replace an ageing and overcrowded causeway triggered intense friction between the two neighbours, and the plans were dropped in 2006.

"It is something which should not drag on because we do not want outstanding legacy issues to affect our own warm relationship," Lee said.

Both leaders also discussed the arrest of alleged Islamic militant leader Mas Selamat bin Kastari by Malaysian authorities on April 1 in Malaysia's Johor state just across a narrow waterway from Singapore.

Mas Selamat had been in hiding in Johor since escaping from a Singapore detention centre last year.

Asked about when Mas Selamat would be handed over, Najib said it would be subject to further discussions.

He added he had shared with Lee "in confidence" some details learned from Mas Selamat.

Lee also expressed Singapore's interest in the Iskandar project, a massive economic zone in Johor.

"We see this as positive for Singapore and we see this as something we can do if the Malaysian side finds it is useful and believes that we can give a contribution.






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