Friday 03 January 2003

`Bloody nose' not war threat

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's warning that aggressive foreign powers could expect a ``bloody nose'' - apparently aimed at both Australia and Singapore - did not mean the country was on a war footing, according to Defence Minister Najib Razak.

``We have our plans and we are not revealing what they are,'' he said. ``If it reaches a stage where we need to launch a response, then we will know what to do, but we are not on a war footing.''

Dr Mahathir had earlier said: ``If anyone violates our freedom with pre-emptive action or forward defence, they will get a bloody nose.''

The reference to pre-emptive strikes was immediately seen as directed at Australia, whose Prime Minister John Howard recently provoked a storm of criticism in Southeast Asia by saying he would attack foreign-based terrorists who posed a threat to Australian interests.

But when Dr Mahathir was asked whether he was referring to neighbouring Singapore, he reportedly said: ``That's your assumption, not mine.''

The question was prompted by Dr Mahathir having said: ``We have heard that if there is to be war, their defence would be by preventing it from reaching their borders. Malaysia will be turned into their battlefield so that war will not reach their borders.''

Relations with the small but wealthy island state at the foot of the Malaysian Peninsula have been prickly since Singapore became independent of the Malay Federation in 1965, and recently a number of contentious issues involving resources and policies have driven the relationship to one of its lowest points.