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From war grave yard to summit venue

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A general view of hotels and entertainment park at Resort World Sentosa, once a grave yard in Singapore. – AFP

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A resort island off Singapore that once housed a prisoner of war camp run by wartime Japanese forces and was called “Rear Death Island” is the venue for Tuesday’s summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The island is now called Sentosa, or Peace and Tranquility, and the two leaders will meet in the Capella hotel, a refurbished British Royal Artillery mess, where, according to legend, there may be silver buried under the lawn.

There were few tourists at the Capella on Wednesday but police, other security personnel and workers were thronging the luxury sprawling hotel to prepare for the meeting that is set to start in six days time.

The hotel is honouring existing guest reservations for now but no new bookings were being accepted.

While Singapore has hosted major summits in the past, none have been held on Sentosa, better known for its beaches, hotels, a casino and a Universal Studios theme park.

The US and North Korea are technically still at war, being the signatories along with China of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Trump has indicated he would try to sign a document that formally ends the war.

Singapore has declared all of Sentosa island a “special event area” for the Trump-Kim summit, which means it will be subject to enhanced security checks, potentially slowing the movement of traffic, and banning the use of loudspeakers and drones.

Once a graveyard and named Pulau Belakang Mati, which roughly means “Rear Death Island” in Malay, it was developed as a tourist attraction in the 1970s, when it was enlarged through land reclamation.

Included in the Capella are two colonial-era bungalows that used to accommodate British artillery officers and was also their regimental mess. According to the hotel’s web site, the officers buried the regimental silver in front of the mess before the Japanese invasion.

Part of the silver was recovered from Malaysia in later years “but the whereabouts of the rest is still unknown, and possibly still lying under the lawn”, the web site said.

Today the Capella is a part of real estate development company caled Pontiac Land Group, which is owned by Singapore’s billionaire Kwee family that bought the brand from former Ritz Carlton president Horst Schulze last year.

It has 112 rooms, suites, villas and manors, including the three-bedroom colonial manor, which goes for 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,500) a night. The grounds have three pools, tennis courts and a spa.

Although no announcements have been made, the leaders are unlikely to stay on Sentosa.

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