Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Land-swop deal to be finalised in 3 months

Singapore, Malaysia PMs to meet again after studying matter further

PUTRAJAYA: The prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia will meet again in three months' time to finalise details of a land swop deal linked to Malayan Railway land in Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, emerged from an hour-long meeting here yesterday to announce that both sides were going to study the matter further before finalising the deal.

Both leaders stressed that they wanted to see the matter through.

'It is something we want to clear expeditiously. Three months means the end of September, it will be soon after Hari Raya Aidilfitri. I think that is a good moment to have a final settlement of this matter,' said Mr Lee at the joint press conference.

Mr Najib, in turn, said he was looking forward to going to Singapore for the 'final resolution' of the matter.

The land swop is the only outstanding issue left unresolved on the contentious Points of Agreement (POA) signed in 1990.

If both countries can find common ground in the next three months, it would mean closure on one of the oldest bilateral issues dogging Singapore-Malaysia ties.

The first breakthrough in negotiations came at a retreat in Singapore last month when both sides agreed to, among other things, move the existing railway station in Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands by July next year.

The railway land left behind could then be jointly developed by both countries, or it could be returned to Singapore and land of equivalent value elsewhere jointly developed instead.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan was in Kuala Lumpur last week presenting details of land parcels that Singapore is offering in the swop. These are in the Marina South and the Rochor/Ophir areas. Various combinations were offered to Malaysia.

Mr Lee said yesterday that Malaysia had certain comments on the land parcels, which Singapore will consider over the next three months.

Underlining the enormity of the swop involved, he said: 'This is a major decision. Malaysia will think it over further, and Singapore will take back the comments which Malaysia has made and consider them.'

Officials from both sides are likely to be meeting to fine-tune the proposal in the next three months.

Yesterday, both sides declined to elaborate on the elements of the land swop.

POA aside, the two also agreed to lower toll charges at the Second Link by 30 per cent from Aug 1.

The highway, linking Tuas to Johor, is currently underused as toll charges are substantially higher than those at the Causeway.

Both prime ministers spoke affirmatively of their discussion, with Mr Lee calling it a 'useful exchange' and Mr Najib saying it was very warm and positive.

Said Mr Najib: 'I thank PM Lee for being as flexible as possible with the intention that there will be a final resolution of the POA.'

He hosted dinner last night for Mr Lee and the Singapore delegation.

The Singapore team included three ministers: Mr Mah, Foreign Minister George Yeo and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

Mr Lee returned to Singapore late last night.

Political observers interviewed yesterday were optimistic that despite the delay, a final resolution would be reached.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin said it was an achievement that talks had progressed so far.

'Most of the principles of the agreement have been carved out. What's left is probably the basis and the quantum of the valuation (of the land parcels),' he said.

Mr Manu Bhaskaran, a council member of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, was similarly hopeful that an agreement could be reached.

He said: 'There are strong and compelling reasons for both countries to set aside their differences and show the world that we have moved on from the period of ill-tempered differences to one where we can resolve issues in a sensible and mutually beneficial manner.'

Source: Straits Times, 23 Jun 2010

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