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State Department Concerned But Optimistic About Malaysia, Singapore

September 23, 1988

Undated (AP) _ WASHINGTON (AP) - The State Department is optimistic that Malaysia and Singapore will uphold ″an underlying commitment to fundamental democratic values″ despite recent controversial arrests in the two Asian countries, says a senior department official.

The official, David F. Lambertson, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, also says it would be premature to judge whether the independence of Malaysia’s judiciary has been eroded by the recent removal of the Supreme Court president and the suspension of five justices in a dispute with the prime minister and parliament.

Lambertson told a congressional panel Thursday that American diplomats have voiced concern about such ″disquieting developments″ as the Malaysian Supreme Court controversy and long detentions without trial under the two countries’ internal security laws.

But ″we are optimistic that an underlying commitment to fundamental democratic values will continue″ in both, he added.

Lambertson’s testimony drew sharp questioning and criticism from some members of the House human rights subcommittee.

Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y., said he will press for approval of a resolution urging Singapore to release all those detained without trial for peaceful dissent and declaring that the U.S. Embassy in Singapore should continue normal diplomatic contacts with citizens who monitor human rights or are in opposition to Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s government.

Weiss cited Singapore’s expulsion last May of E. Mason Hendrickson, an American diplomat who met with anti-government lawyers as another area of concern. The United States retaliated with the expulsion of a Singapore diplomat from Washington.

Weiss also demanded that Lambertson acknowledge that eight Singapore dissidents recanted under duress a statement alleging physical abuse of detainees that they had issued after being arrested in 1987 and accused of a communist conspiracy. The dissidents were released, but Lambertson reported that they changed the statement while under re-arrest this year.

″I don’t think it behooves me to speculate on individual motives of why people say one thing on one occasion and another thing on another occasion,″ Lambertson told Weiss.

Describing Lambertson’s testimony as ″so bland that it could be a recipe for some kind of soup″ Weiss questioned whether American diplomats were adequately conveying to Malaysia and Singapore ″the passionate commitment of the U.S. to human rights.″

Lambertson replied that ″the level of passion depends on the individual,″ but he could assure the subcommittee that human rights abuses are carefully investigated and that ″there is no doubt on the part of the Singapore or Malaysian governments as to our point of view.″

Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., said Malaysia and Singapore ″are very, very important countries to the United States. We place a high value on our relationship with them, therefore are concerned how these governments treat their own people.″

″It is always difficult to criticize a friend,″ he added, and ″we are hopeful for ... some constructive suggestions on how best to go about conveying the concerns of Congress and the administration.″

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