Singapore-Australian relations may worsen

Singapore's determination to execute an Australian heroin trafficker should be taken into account when Canberra decides whether Singapore Airlines can compete on the lucrative trans-Pacific route between Australia and the United States, a senior government lawmaker said Thursday.

But Prime Minister John Howard rejected Bruce Baird's call, reiterating that Singapore's decision to refuse clemency for Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, would be kept separate from trade issues such as the state-owned airline's long-standing request for access to the route. Van Nguyen is scheduled to hang on Dec. 2.

In a further blow to Van Nguyen's case, the Speaker of the Singapore Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi wrote to his Australian counterpart saying that an example must be made of the condemned man.

"He knew what he was doing and the consequences of his actions," Tarmugi wrote in a letter dated Nov. 15, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The government is to complete by the end of this year a review of its aviation policy which currently excludes Singapore Airlines from the long-haul route shared by Australian carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. and United Airlines, owned by Illinois-based UAL Corp. Baird, chairman of the federal parliament's Amnesty International human rights group, said the government should take Van Nguyen's case into consideration during negotiations with Singapore Airlines. "I'm not saying it should be made a condition, I just think it is one of the issues that should be taken into consideration because we have made a number of requests to them to consider our position," Baird told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"It's one of our young citizens, it's one of the factors in granting the request from Singapore that we take that into account," he added. In another warning of damage to the bilateral relationship, Trade Minister Mark Vaile described Singapore as Australia's closest ally in Southeast Asia, but urged the relationship not be taken for granted.

"In no way ... should the Singapore government or Singapore people take for granted that relationship, nor the strength of feeling that exists in Australia over this issue," Vaile told The Australian newspaper, reports the AP. I.L.

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