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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

S'poreans ace test of racial cohesion: Swee Say

S'poreans ace test of racial cohesion: Swee Say
Minister praises citizens, but stresses need to build strong network of trust
By Clarissa Oon
March 12, 2008

THE response of Singaporeans to the escape of Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leader Mas Selamat Kastari received an A+ yesterday.

Minister Lim Swee Say, who described the escape as a test in inter-racial cohesion, said Singaporeans passed it 'with flying colours'.

He noted that people worked as one, without any finger-pointing, to search for the JI leader who escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre on Feb27.

'Did they take a position based on their racial or religious groups and draw the line? They did not,' he pointed out.

Mr Lim, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was speaking to about 250 grassroots and community leaders at an event that underlines Singapore's unrelenting effort to maintain social cohesion.

The event is part of the People's Association's Community Engagement Programme (CEP).Mr Lim is in charge of the CEP, which identifies key community leaders who can be mobilised via SMS. They, in turn, will reach out to residents, schools and religious organisations.

Four CEP Ready constituencies were recognised yesterday in the first of a series of sessions. They were: Buona Vista, Canberra, Zhenghua and Marsiling in the north-west district.

Mr Lim is an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, which lies in the district.

In his speech, he warned against complacency, saying: 'We should not assume we will always be able to pass the test in the future.'

He posed this scenario to the gathering at the Ulu Pandan Community Club: 'What if, one day, a big bomb were to go off in Holland Village, which is not very far from here?

'What if it is a deliberate act of terrorism by a group hiding behind the banner of a particular religion or race? How would we respond?'

Terrorists, he noted, do not aim just to damage property or take lives. Their intention is to 'destroy the trust in the community across the various racial and religious groups'.

Building trust is therefore paramount. Right now, there may exist 'pockets of trust' among Singaporeans, he said.

But, he added, 'there will be gaps where terrorists can inject mistrust'.

The CEP hopes to frustrate them by closing the gaps and 'linking up the pockets into a network of trust', he added.

Tonight, another five constituencies in the north-east will receive their CEP Ready certificates from Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean.

In all, 28 constituencies would have received such certificates by next month, which is one in three constituencies.

Last night, grassroots leaders raised several issues in a dialogue with MrLim, and MPs Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC).

One was the reliability of the mobilisation system: What would happen if the SMS alerts do not get through?

Mr Lim said media coverage would create awareness of a crisis, but agreed there was a need to have back-up plans.

Mr Liang and Dr Lim were asked about grassroots perceptions of Mas Selamat's escape.

Mr Liang said his grassroots leaders saw it as a national threat and did not associate it with any particular racial group, while Dr Lim said his team had distributed fliers to residents and worshippers at mosques and temples.

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