June 13, 2008

S'pore set to be major hub in region for Arabs

George Yeo highlights growing ties with Yemen and Middle East

By Yeo Ghim Lay

SINGAPORE is stepping up ties with the Middle East and is set to be a major hub in the region for Arabs, said Foreign Minister George Yeo on Wednesday.

Mr Yeo was speaking to reporters after hosting dinner for a visiting Yemeni official, Mr Ahmed Janned Al Janned.

He is the deputy governor of the Hadramout region for Valley and Desert Affairs.

Mr Yeo said relations between Yemen and Singapore took a step forward recently after Singapore appointed a non-resident ambassador - Mr Helmi Talib - to the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

The appointment came after his visit to Yemen in May last year, the first made by a Singapore minister.

Singapore had agreed then to provide Yemen with technical assistance in capacity building.

The 10,000-strong Arab community in Singapore has close ties to Yemen - with more than 95 per cent of them having Yemeni roots.

Besides expanding links with Yemen, plans are also being drawn up for a centre in Singapore to study Arab culture, said Mr Yeo.

'There is some progress and a lot of work is being done,' he said.

This comes as financial ties between Singapore and the Middle East grow steadily, with Singapore companies working on billions of dollars' worth of projects in the region.

Mr Ahmed Janned, whose ancestors were among the first Arabs to settle in Singapore, will be here until tomorrow.

He is related to Mr Syed Omar Aljunied, a pioneer Arab businessman who came here in the 1800s.

Mr Ahmed Janned said the relationship between Yemen and Singapore goes back 200 years.

'I am looking forward to renewing this relationship and I am looking forward to taking more Singapore expertise to Hadramout, in particular, and Yemen in general.'

Mr Yeo noted that Singapore has always been an important part of the Arab network in the region.

'Singapore would be one of the hubs of Arabs in the region and of new links between South-east Asia and the Middle East, and indeed of a much greater east-west trade between the Middle East and Asia,' said Mr Yeo.

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