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Malaysia, Singapore near pact to end spats -report

By Staff
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KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 12 (Reuters) Malaysia and Singapore have moved closer to resolving longstanding disputes, including a row over a bridge to replace a causeway linking the two nations, news agency Bernama said today.

This comes amid warmer ties between the two Southeast Asian states. Both sides have been locked in protracted talks over a number of bilateral issues, ranging from the supply of drinking water to the use of railway land.

''In principle, there have been several agreements achieved.

Now we need to go into the details and make the agreements final,'' Bernama quoted Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar as saying in Malaysia's Johor state bordering Singapore.

Asked about the proposed bridge to replace the causeway, Syed Hamid said: ''In principle, they (Singapore) are agreeable to see how best both parties can construct a straight bridge.

The negotiations look very positive and they won't take very long.'' He did not elaborate.

Kuala Lumpur had vowed to proceed with plans to build the bridge to replace its half of a causeway despite reservations by Singapore.

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had unveiled an unusual plan to build a bridge to replace half of the 500-metre (yard) causeway spanning the Johor strait in 2003 after the island state rejected his original plan to jointly build a bridge to replace the entire causeway.

Malaysia says its ''crooked'' bridge, so called because of its convoluted design, would boost traffic flow and ease jams on its side of the 82-year-old causeway, allow ships to pass beneath and improve water quality by unblocking the waters of the strait.

Singapore opposes the original plan on grounds of cost and has also raised environmental concerns over the bridge.

As talks on the issue have dragged on, Malaysia has gone ahead with a key part of its 1.1 billion ringgit (296 million dollars) project, a customs and immigration complex at Johor Baru, the main gateway to Malaysia from Singapore.

Other pending issues include the price of water Malaysia supplies to water-scarce Singapore, opening up Malaysian airspace to Singapore for air force training and releasing Malaysians' retirement funds locked within the city-state.

Singapore lies at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula.

The two nations, which separated in 1965 after a brief union in the years following independence from Britain, have deep economic ties but relations have sometimes been prickly.

REUTERS CH RK2001

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