Malaysia pulls out of defence exercise

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S MOST important Asian defence agreement has been thrown into jeopardy by the Asian economic crisis and a smouldering dispute between Singapore and Malaysia.

The Malaysian government has unilaterally withdrawn from Exercise Stardex, a maritime and air exercise due to take place in the autumn under the Five Powers Defence Arrangement.

The arrangement, which involves Australia and New Zealand as well as Singapore, Malaysia and Britain, was established in 1971 as a means of protecting the south-east countries from communism.

Malaysia gave as the reason for its withdrawal its worsening economic situation - on Thursday it announced that it was officially in recession. But the Malaysian Defence Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, admitted that tensions with Singapore were also a reason.

The Royal Navy frigate, HMS Grafton, has now been redeployed.