Singapore’s Sentosa Island has dark past

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THE first-ever meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea will be held at a luxury resort on a spectacular island — with a very brutal past.

Billed as Singapore’s top holiday resort, Sentosa Island draws a massive 20 million visitors each year with its stunning beaches, glitzy casinos and theme parks.

The island’s name means “peace and tranquillity” and as it’s only accessible via one bridge linking it to the mainland, it’s also secluded and private — making it an ideal spot for US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s historic June 12 summit.

But until a few decades ago, the island went by a different name, Pulau Belakang Mati — which roughly translates to “island of death from behind”.

And that gives some indication of this carefree island’s dark past.

One theory suggests the old name derived from Sentosa’s former association with piracy, as the 500-hectare tropical island was reportedly a popular pirates’ hideaway.

Another theory taps into legends of the spirit world.

“[The theory] speaks of the island being the ‘paradise’ of ‘warrior spirits’ whose bodies were entombed at [nearby island] Pulau Brani,” the National Library Board of Singapore said.

But the ominous name could also refer to a deadly disease that swept the island in the late 1840s and came close to wiping out the entire population.

The island’s association with death and bloodshed didn’t end there — it also had a big, and horrific, role in World War II.

After the surrender of Singapore to Japanese forces in 1942, Sentosa was turned into a brutal camp for Australian and British prisoners of war.

It was also a killing field for Singaporean Chinese people who, during the Japanese occupation, were accused of anti-Japanese activities and executed.

The accused, mostly civilians, were rounded up on a two-kilometre beach — now a massive golf course — and shot dead, with their bodies hurled into the sea.

About 300 corpses washed ashore during the Japanese occupation, the Straits Times reported.

Fort Siloso, a major attraction on Sentosa, was used during the war to guard against approaches to Singapore. Its guns, ammunition bunkers and tunnels are on display, along with Singapore’s biggest collection of WWII memorabilia.

Things changed during the 1970s when the Singaporean government developed the island as a tourist destination — and gave it its current, more visitor-friendly name.

Far from the violence of its past, the island began to be synonymous with outdoor leisure, shopping and luxury, and as well as being a tourism powerhouse, it’s also home to some of Singapore’s richest people, with waterfront villas priced at up to $39 million.

It also has 17 hotels, two golf courses, a three-kilometre beach lined with palm trees, an award-winning and a bunch of major attractions — Universal Studios Singapore, a Madame Tussauds museum, a water theme park, a nature park and massive shopping meccas.

Next week’s summit — the first sitting between the leaders of the US and North Korea — will be held at the luxury, five-star Capella hotel, a sprawling, opulent complex that’s a favourite with A-list celebrities, and where the most lavish rooms cost close to $10,000 for a night.

The hotel, which incorporates two colonial buildings that housed British officers in the 1880s, is known for its luxury amenities, impeccable service and privacy, according to the Associated Press.

It’s been given a fresh coat of paint and had red carpets rolled in ahead of the historic summit.

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