December 26, 2002

Malaysia may protest Singapore boat chase

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday that Malaysia may lodge a diplomatic protest after neighbouring Singapore chased its marine police boat away from a disputed tiny island.
"The island is important to us. We cannot allow other people to take away any part of our country. We may protest (Singapore's action)," he told reporters.
A marine police patrol boat Tuesday bearing local journalists on a routine observation patrol approached Batu Putih island but was immediately ordered to leave the waters by a Singaporean navy vessel.
"These are Singapore waters, please leave immediately," a sailor on the ship warned the Malaysian boat, the New Straits Times newspaper reported.
"Singapore is acting as if the island belongs to them," Mahathir said.
Mahathir said Malaysia would seek for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule who has sovereignty over the island and would abide by the court's decision.
On Tuesday some 50 members of Mahathir's ruling National Front coalition held a rare noisy protest outside the Singapore High Commission here.
In the hour-long protest, demonstrators hoisting posters that read "No more water for betrayal," denounced the republic's construction on the island and demanded it vacate Batu Putih immediately.
Malaysia supplies resource-starved Singapore with half its daily water needs. But Kuala Lumpur has decided to stop negotiations with Singapore and is to seek legal recourse for a price review of water supplied to the republic.
"We can't keep on selling water to them at 1927 prices. We will not cut the water supply. However we will supply them with water for purposes of drinking and bathing. We don't feel we should supply water for their purpose of selling it to ships in order to make more money," Mahathir said Wednesday.
The prime minister said Singapore sells 1,000 gallons (3,800 litres) of treated water to ships for 20 Singapore dollars (US$12) but buys from Malaysia 1,000 gallons of non-treated water for three sen (less than one US cent).