Highest military award for Najib

MALAYSIAN Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak yesterday received Singapore’s highest military award for fostering closer defence ties between the two countries.

He was awarded the Darjah Utama Bakti Chemerlang (Tentera) or the Distinguished Service Order (Military) by President Ong Teng Cheong during a 10-minute ceremony at the Istana.

He is the first Malaysian to receive the gold-plated, five-pointed breast star.

Speaking at a press conference later, he said he was “deeply honoured and touched” by Singapore’s gesture in conferring the award.

“To me, it symbolises the growing closer ties between our two military establishments.”

Noting that defence relations were moving to a higher level, he said: “We consider defence ties as a long-term strategic interest. It is a very important area that should be developed.”

He said officials from both countries were discussing long-term projects which included the possibility of a combined armed forces exercise.

He added that Singapore and Malaysia could also engage in research, development and, ultimately, production of defence and defence-related products.

He acknowledged that there were still “some sensitive problems” between the two countries but success in military cooperation was “a very clear signal that we are moving closer together and increasing the level of confidence”.

Datuk Najib, who arrived on Wednesday for a two-day official visit, had talks earlier with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Defence and Labour Minister Lee Boon Yang.

In honouring Datuk Najib, the award citation touched on his “enduring contributions” to defence relations.

It said that his personal commitment and enthusiasm were instrumental in setting up the Malaysia-Singapore Defence Forum, which held its inaugural meeting in January.

The forum provides policy guidelines and directives for bilateral defence activities and explores new avenues for defence cooperation.

“The establishment of the forum opened a new chapter in defence relations between the two countries and reflects the commitment of both countries to propel the already excellent ties to greater heights,” the citation said.

At the same time, interactions between the two armed forces had increased considerably because of his leadership, it added.

Army and naval exercises have been conducted annually and there have been frequent exchanges between the two armed forces in the form of study visits, attachment programmes and sporting activities.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force has also conducted navigation and low-level flying training in Malaysia.

The citation noted that through Datuk Najib’s initiative, the two countries had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on defence industrial cooperation in January.

He had also been supportive of cooperation within the framework of the Five-Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), it said.

Among those present at the ceremony were Dr Lee, Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, Minister of State for Defence and Finance Teo Chee Hean and nearly 200 senior government and military officials from both countries.

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