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Malaysia Denies War Threat in Dispute With Singapore - 2003-01-27

Malaysia is denying that it had threatened to go to war with Singapore because of disputes over water and a small but strategic island.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar Monday called on Singapore to cease verbal battling and to stop blaming Malaysia for escalating their disputes. He said his government is committed to resolving problems through negotiations and has never threatened to go to war.

The two neighbors are currently arguing about control of a small island in the strategic shipping lanes of the Singapore Straits. Singapore calls the island Pedra Branca, while Malaysia refers to it as Pulau Batu Puteh. The Malaysian foreign minister was responding to accusations by his Singaporean counterpart, Shunmugam Jayakumar.

Mr. Jayakumar told Singapore's Parliament Sunday that Malayasian politicians and media had been threatening war in words and deeds, and such actions were dangerous and provocative. He told lawmakers that in this emotional atmosphere it was irresponsible for the Malaysian Navy and marine police vessels to keep making intrusions into Singapore's territorial waters off Pedra Branca in the past month, despite being warned to stay away.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said that Singapore has no right to make such a demand while the ownership of the island is still in dispute.

Both sides have agreed to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague - but that has not eased tensions over the issue. Malaysia and Singapore, which split apart in 1965, are also locked in dispute over the price of water Malaysia supplies to the resource starved city-state.

The renewed tensions come as Singapore and Malaysia have been working closely with other Southeast Asian nations to combat terrorist threats in the region.