Thursday, November 15, 2007

KL accuses S'pore of trying to 'subvert' the status quo

Nov 14, 2007

Malaysia also says S'pore never replied to requests for copies of Johor's 1844 letters

By Lydia Lim

THE HAGUE (NETHERLANDS) - LAUNCHING its case before an international court yesterday, Malaysia lost no time in attacking Singapore's claim on Pedra Branca as an attempt to overturn the status quo in the Singapore Strait.

Its first speaker, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad, questioned Singapore's motivation in asserting such a claim.

He called it a bid to 'subvert' a 150-year-old arrangement by Malaysia for the Horsburgh lighthouse on Pedra Branca to be operated from Singapore.

The lawyer and Foreign Affairs Adviser to Malaysia's Prime Minister also sought to paint to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) an image of Singapore as an expansionist state.

[Comment: It would seem that this is what worried the M'sian - that Singapore was reclaiming land wherever it could. ]

He suggested that the Republic would - if allowed to - upset the peace and stability of the eastern part of the Singapore Strait, the site of the disputed island.

Singapore, he told the court, has a 'very active reclamation policy'.

In 1978, it conceived plans to reclaim the waters around Pedra Branca to construct an artificial island some 5,000 sq m in size, he noted.

'Quite apart from the possible effects on the environment and navigation in the Strait, this could lead to potentially serious changes to the security arrangements in the eastern entrance of the Strait,' he said.

Singapore and Malaysia are appearing before the ICJ to resolve their dispute over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, an island 40km east of Singapore.

Malaysia is giving its oral pleadings this week, after Singapore did so last week.

In its arguments, Singapore had made no secret of its 1978 tender to reclaim land around Pedra Branca.

It had argued that the reclamation tender was proof that it had all along exercised state authority over the island. No state, it pointed out, would set out to reclaim land around an island it thought belonged to someone else.

Yesterday, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir also charged that Singapore began mounting 24-hour naval patrols around Pedra Branca in 1986.

Its naval boats chased away Malaysian fishermen and made it impossible for the Malaysian navy to approach the area without provoking a skirmish, he added.

Malaysia, he said, chose 'non-confrontation' in the face of Singapore's actions.

Singapore had made clear in its pleadings that it had been patrolling the waters there since the inception of its navy in 1975, well before the dispute arose.

Tan Sri Abdul Kadir and Malaysia's international counsel, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, also sought to cast aspersions on Singapore's conduct in its dealings with its neighbour.

They referred to two letters of 1844 in which the Johor rulers gave permission to the Governor of Singapore to build a lighthouse on any of the islands near Point Romania.

Malaysia has argued that the letters proved that Pedra Branca was thus among those islands under Johor's sovereignty.

Yesterday, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir said that in 1994, Malaysia wrote to Singapore asking for a copy of the Governor's letter. But Singapore never replied.

'If this letter exists today, it is likely that it is in Singapore's archives in the file entitled 'Letters to Native Rulers'. Unfortunately, Malaysia does not have access to these archives,' he said.

In its written pleadings, Singapore had pointed out the letters should be in Malaysia's possession as the Governor had sent them to the Johor rulers.

Yesterday, Malaysia also argued that Pulau Batu Puteh, its name for Pedra Branca, had always been part of the Johor sultanate.

Despite the tough talk in court, the sitting began on a friendly note with Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar exchanging greetings with Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar. Malaysia continues its arguments today.

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