KL to let SAF train in Malaysia on bigger scale

Frequency of training can be increased: Najib

MALAYSIA has indicated that it will allow Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel to train on Malaysian soil in bigger numbers and possibly on a regular basis.

“The SAF has been training on a small scale in Malaysia. We can increase the size and frequency of this training as time goes on,” Malaysia’s Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told The Straits Times in an interview.

Defence relations between the two countries have continued to be warm since the resumption of bilateral exercises between the SAF and the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) in 1992 after a lapse of about two years.

Army units from the two sides began a five-day joint exercise yesterday in the Malaysian state of Pahang, with the opening ceremony held in the town of Kuala Lipis.

While Datuk Najib did not specify the exact scale and frequency of future SAF exercises in Malaysia, he indicated that the Republic could conduct training “in any part of Malaysia” except Johor.

“I have told Singapore’s leaders that we have to be realistic,” he said. “The presence of a very large number of troops in Johor is a very sensitive matter politically.”

In the 40-minute interview in his Mindef office at Jalan Semarak on Thursday, he said bilateral defence relations had “progressed significantly” over the last decade.

“There is definitely more transparency,” he said. “We feel more comfortable dealing with one another. We understand and appreciate each other much better today.”

He said that both countries were finding ways to improve defence ties further. For a start, Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to set up a joint forum to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral defence cooperation. The forum would be chaired jointly by the defence ministers of the two countries.

He revealed that defence officials from the countries were now identifying areas of cooperation.

Describing the forum as a “quid pro quo arrangement”, he said that both sides should consider offers of weapons, military services and defence technology from one another.

Turning to Malaysia’s relations with Singapore, he said that the two countries should look at ways to complement one another rather than being in direct competition.

“We are competing for finance, capital and even tourists,” he noted. “Our economies are not complementary in every respect but let this competition be a healthy and benign one.”

While both countries were moving towards a more “mature” relationship, he said there was a need to “move away from this prism of Malay-Chinese relationship”.

“It is about time that we disengage from this traditional mindset and look forward towards a more meaningful relationship based on mutual respect.”

He noted that bilateral ties were still clouded by “irritant” issues such as the question of development of Malaysian Railway land in Singapore and the dispute over who owns Pedra Branca.

Both sides had, however, handled such problems “with a lot of wisdom and care”, he said. “That, to me, shows growing maturity between the two countries.”

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