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Singapore, Malaysia end sea dredging dispute
Updated: 2005-04-26 18:36

Singapore and Malaysia ended a two-year dispute on Tuesday over Singapore's land-reclamation works in a narrow strip of sea that separates the neighbours, the latest improvement in often-strained relations.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and his Malaysian counterpart, Syed Hamid Albar, met in Singapore for the signing of an agreement that allows the affluent but land-scarce island to revive land reclamation in the Johor Strait.

"With the signing, we will be closing an old chapter on a bilateral dispute which began during a period of more troubled bilateral relations," Yeo said at the signing ceremony.

Malaysia took Singapore to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in September 2003, accusing its southern neighbour of going ahead with the land reclamation without consulting Malaysia. It raised concerns about the impact on navigation and on the local environment.

Singapore defended the dredging work, saying its 4.2 million people occupied an island covering an area smaller than Hamburg and that it had been reclaiming land for housing, economic and industrial uses for more than a century.

Under the pact, Singapore will revise its reclamation plans to protect sea currents and will pay S$300,000 ($182,300) for maintainance works at a Malaysian jetty.

It will also make a one-off payment of 374,400 ringgit ($98,550) to Malaysian fishermen in the area to compensate for a loss of income.

But despite the agreement, Singapore is unlikely to quickly revive the land-reclamation project to create 49 square km (19 sq miles) of new land in the strait due to a lack of sand supply.

Indonesia, whose archipelago supplied 80 percent of Singapore's sand, barred sand exports to Singapore in 2003, citing environmental and maritime boundary concerns.

Over the last four decades, Singapore's borders have swollen by nearly 20 percent with a relentless series of land-reclamation projects.

The chief of Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority, Cheong-Chua Koon Hean, said completion of the project depended on the availability of resources. "We would try our best to do it," she told a news conference.

Relations have been prickly since Singapore and Malaysia formally separated in 1965. But ties have been on the mend since since Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took power in October 2003, ushering in a more consensus-driven approach.

"The civilised manner in which we have been able to settle this dispute gives us some confidence that our other bilateral disputes can be settled in the same way," Yeo said.

Other outstanding issues include a row over the price of water supplied to Singapore by Malaysia, a Malaysian plan to replace a causeway across the Singapore Strait with a modern bridge and the fate of a Malaysian railway line that runs into the heart of Singapore.

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