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By Ravi Nambiar
546 words
19 October 2005
New Straits Times
(c) 2005 New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad.

JOHOR BARU, Tues. - Singapore today warned of "serious implications" if Malaysia went ahead with its plan to build a half-bridge without the republic's agreement.

Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo told Parliament that Singapore had sent a diplomatic note to Kuala Lumpur on Oct 25, 2003 stating its position on any unilateral move to demolish half of the Causeway.

"Our third-party note pointed out that international facilities such as the Causeway cannot be lawfully demolished without the approval, agreement and involvement of both sides," he said.

Since then, Singapore had sent several diplomatic notes to Malaysia to remind the latter of its position on the half-bridge.

He said the republic would agree to Malaysia's proposal to replace the Causeway with a bridge if there was a "balance of benefits" to both sides.

He did not elaborate what such benefits were.

His comments came as a high-powered delegation from the republic left for Putrajaya for another round of talks with Wisma Putra officials tomorrow on the bridge and other bilateral issues.

When the idea of a bridge was first floated in 2000, it assumed the form of a 1.4km straight elevated crossing. This was projected to cost RM640 million, with Singapore sharing half the cost.

However, Singapore's lukewarm response prompted Malaysia to pursue the idea of a "crooked" bridge on the Malaysian side.

Since assuming office, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong have held two rounds of talks on the bridge.

The leaders last met in Putrajaya in February. No decision was reached.

Officials from both sides have also met several times without making any headway.

However, it is learnt, when they last met on Sept 7, Malaysia told Singapore it was ready to build a half-bridge on its portion of the Johor Straits if the republic was not keen on the project.

The Works Ministry, through Gerbang Perdana, the local consortium, is spearheading the bridge project, the RM1.1 billion integrated Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex, and other related facilities.

The bridge and CIQ complex form part of Johor's Southern International Gateway (SIG) project, which includes the development of JB Sentral and a road bridge.

Singapore Foreign Affairs Ministry permanent secretary Peter Ho will lead his delegation to the follow-up talks tomorrow. The Malaysian side will be headed by Wisma Putra secretary-general Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak.

This latest negotiation is expected to centre on "trade-offs" for Singapore's participation in the bridge project.

Two demands are likely to take centrestage: the right to use Malaysian airspace for Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) fighter jets, and the supply of sand from Johor.

On air space, Singapore is expected to present a technical report stipulating the specific requirements for its RSAF training flights, including the time, altitude and location of the jets in Johor airspace.

On sand, Singapore's reclamation projects to create 49 sq km of new land were dealt a blow in 2003 when Indonesia stopped selling sand to the republic.

This has been a major setback for the Government, which plans to expand its coast by another 14 per cent over the next 50 years.