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KL 'let S'pore outflank it over bridge'

534 words
26 April 2006
Straits Times
(c) 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Mahathir's ex-aide criticises the official explanation for scrapping of the project

KUALA LUMPUR - THE Malaysian Foreign Ministry has issued a 17-page statement to explain the bridge saga in hopes of closing the issue, but its critics see it as proof that Kuala Lumpur has let Singapore run rings around it.

Mr Matthias Chang, a former aide of Tun Mahathir Mohamad, said yesterday that it was 'clear evidence' of Malaysia being outflanked and out-manoeuvred by Singapore.

'What is worse, our negotiating team is at pains to justify Singapore's position, and appeal to us, the citizens, to appreciate the sensitivities of Singapore,' he said.

He was lambasting Ambassador-at-large Fuzi Razak, who issued the statement on Monday to explain why the government had to scrap the bridge project.

Tan Sri Fuzi, the ministry's former secretary-general who led Malaysia's negotiating team, was asked by the Cabinet last week to reply to Tun Dr Mahathir's criticism of the decision.

It is not clear how much support the former prime minister has on this issue as the majority of politicians, including those from the opposition, have supported the government's decision.

In the statement, Tan Sri Fuzi detailed the sequence of events and explained the legal complications in going ahead without getting Singapore's agreement for the project.

The Foreign Ministry also refuted the contention of former prime minister Mahathir that Singapore had agreed to the bridge in 2002.

It explained that the agreement was revoked when Malaysia decided to stop negotiating the outstanding issues as a package.

Singapore had regarded its agreement to the bridge as a concession in the full package, the Foreign Ministry said.

Singapore's position was confirmed in a diplomatic note sent in November 2004.

Mr Chang, however, did not agree. He was involved in the legal preparations for the negotiations from 2001 until the time Tun Dr Mahathir retired in October 2003.

He contended that Singapore had unilaterally revoked its agreement on the pretext that Malaysia had dropped the package approach.

He slammed the Malaysian negotiators for allowing Singapore to do so, and further, to negotiate on the issues of sand and airspace when the package approach had been abandoned.

'By linking airspace and a new factor (sand), Singapore has insidiously circumvented the single issue approach, and trapped Malaysia into adopting a limited package approach,' he said.

Mr Chang also suggested that the Malaysian Foreign Ministry was holding back pertinent information, saying that the information disclosed was less than 10 per cent of the total negotiations.

Tun Dr Mahathir, who is in Britain on holiday, has not commented on this latest development.

But opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said he believes that the majority of people agree that the government did the right thing by calling off the bridge project.

He, however, noted that the 'Mahathir group cannot be ignored'.

Barisan Nasional backbenchers club president Shahrir Samad said the people always react emotionally to issues involving Malaysia and Singapore.

'Some accept the explanation, some don't, but some don't want to,' he said.