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Leaders seek to end tensions

Putrajaya, Malaysia―Singapore and Malaysia’s leaders vowed to cooperate to solve disputes Tuesday after tensions between the neighbors over airspace and maritime boundaries, which followed a change of government in Malaysia.

They have had fractious relations since Malaysia evicted Singapore from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, ending a brief and stormy union of the former British colonies.

Ties have gone up and down over the years but have been shaky since Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad―who has long had a prickly relationship with Singapore―returned to the premiership with a shock election victory last year.

Tensions begin rising again a few months ago after Singapore accused Malaysia of sending government boats into its waters, and the city-state then proposed new landing procedures at an airport that Kuala Lumpur claimed would violate its airspace.

But in recent days the neighbors suspended overlapping maritime claims to allow for talks and the city-state halted the contentious landing procedures, ahead of a visit on Tuesday to Malaysia by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

After holding talks in the administrative capital Putrajaya, Lee and Mahathir―93 and in his second stint as premier―hailed the moves to ease tensions.

“We agreed that the fundamental principle is to resolve issues of concern in a friendly and constructive manner,” Mahathir told a press conference in the city.

Lee added: “As close neighbors, Singapore and Malaysia must expect issues to arise between us from time to time but provided we can address them in a constructive spirit, we can manage... the side effects.” 

The leaders also announced talks on their maritime boundaries would begin in a month.

Ties were warm between the neighbours under the last Malaysian leader Najib Razak—who lost power after being accused of plundering state coffers—but have quickly started to fray since the return of Mahathir.

Some observers trace Mahathir’s long-running animosity towards Singapore back to his fractious relationship with the city-state’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Topics: Singapore , Malaysia , airspace , maritime boundaries
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