FOR OVER half a century island state Singapore  has been getting half of its fresh water from northern neighbour Malaysia-

A deal that could be up for review as the new prime minister in Kuala Lumpur seeks to cut down on the country's ballooning debt.

Singapore was once part of Malaysia but they separated acrimoniously in 1965, clouding diplomatic and economic dealings for years. Relations remain volatile.

In his first few weeks back in office, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad  has got the brakes on projects and cut ministers salaries to tackle about 1trillion ringgit [$250 billion] of national debt he blames on past corruption.

Now, he has his guns trained on the price of water sold to Singapore.

''I think it's manifestly ridiculous,'' Mahathir said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia published on Monday, referring to the water deal.

''That was okay way back in 1990s,'' he added, saying he wanted to renegotiate the same.

Asked about the water issue at a news conference later on Monday, Mahathir brushed it aside saying it ''was not pressing.''

Singapore's foreign ministry said in an  e-mailed statement on Monday, that ''both sides must comply fully with the provisions of those agreements.''

Tensions between  Singapore and Malaysia were high during Mahathir's previous tenures from 1981  to 2003, and the water row contributed to the difficult ties.

Since returning to power in May, the 92-year old has said he will halt a high-speed rail project  linking Kuala Lumpur with Singapore and would develop some offshore rocks that were the subject of a territorial dispute.

Some analysts say Mahathir's revival of the water dispute could be posturing. Malaysia faces financial penalties from Singapore if it pulls out of  high-speed  rail  agreement as Mahathir has suggested it will.

''It is not just about money. He [Mahathir] is a very canny  statesman,'' said Nicholas Fang, director of security and global affairs at think tank the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

''He knows how to put in place different levers that he can then pull to effect certain things.''

The honor and serving of the latest Global Operational Research on Malaysia, Singapore relationship continues.


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