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Straightening bridge talks

Updated On: Mar 14, 2006

If ensuing negotiations between Singapore and Malaysia go well, a full bridge will replace the Johor Causeway, instead of a ‘scenic bridge’ being built on Malaysia's half of the Johor Strait.   

The Singapore delegation led by Foreign Affairs Ministry permanent secretary Peter Ho, reached an ‘in principle’ agreement to build a full bridge with the Malaysian side headed by ambassador- at-large Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak, former Wisma Putra secretary-general, in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur yesterday (March 12), after five rounds of negotiations.

According to Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, a date for the two countries to reach a final agreement will be “getting nearer” after clarifying a few technical details, which include the use of Malaysian air space for Singapore Air Force’s training flights, and purchase of sand from Johor for Singapore’s coastal land reclamation work.

The Star (March 13) reports the Foreign Minister as stating that “Malaysia will not compromise its sovereignty by agreeing to a Singaporean request for sand and airspace in return for a favourable answer on negotiations over the Scenic Bridge.”

In a surprise move by the Malaysian side on March 10, Kuala Lumpur had symbolically launched construction work on the 'scenic bridge' expected to be in use by April 2009.  Works Minister S. Samy Vellu endorsed the bridge project to avoid “any delay” and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak explained that “even if we have already technically started work on the scenic bridge, Singapore can still take part in the project.”  Later, after the fifth round of negotiations, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar revealed that the ‘scenic bridge’ construction “was merely a contingency measure in the event the talks failed”.  This perhaps reflect some “hard” tactics being employed to force the pace of negotiations 

Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo expressed ‘surprise’ and ‘disappointment’ over Malaysia’s symbolic launch of the half-bridge, and had sought clarification through the Third Party Note sent to his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar over the weekend.  Mr Yeo reiterates Singapore’s position for the full bridge agreement to “represent a balance of benefits” and maintains that talks “should not drag on forever”.

Sources:

S'pore 'surprised' by KL's talk of launching bridge construction (The Straits Times, March 11, 2006)

Bridge can't be delayed: Samy Vellu (The Straits Times, 12 March 2006)

Syed Hamid says S'pore, KL agree on straight bridge (The Straits Times, 12 March 2006)

No compromise on sovereignty (The Star, 13 March 2006)

New bridge moves a step closer to reality (New Straits Times, 13 March 2006)

In-principle agreement reached on full bridge: Syed Hamid (The Straits Times, March 13, 2006)