Sat, 20 Sep 2003

International tribunal to hear Malaysia’s petition

By Firdaus Abdullah

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 19: The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has agreed to hear Malaysia’s petition for provisional measures to halt Singapore’s land reclamation work in and around the Straits of Johor.
The Hamburg-based International Tribunal will convene an oral hearing of the case from Sept 25 to 27 based on Kuala Lumpur's petition to solve its disagreement with the island republic.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said today the Malaysian team to the hearing in Germany would be led by Foreign Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak.
"He (Ahmad Fuzi) will act as Malaysia's agent and the co-agent is our ambassador to Germany Datuk Kamal Ismaun. Others in the team include Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Patail, four lawyers and representatives from ministries and departments involved in the case.
"This is not a hearing for arbitration. We are asking for a provisional order to stop the reclamation work until all issues pending the validity of the reclamation is decided....until the full case is decided," Syed Hamid said.
He added that Kuala Lumpur had no other option but to refer the case to the tribunal last month as Singapore remained adamant on continuing with the reclamation while negotiations to resolve the dispute were on-going.
"We have had two meetings with Singapore. We asked them to stop while the matter is being discussed but they disagreed. We feel this is a matter of urgency and we want that provisional measure."
On Kuala Lumpur's next step in resolving the dispute, Syed Hamid said: "If we want to go for a full hearing of the case, it's up to us. This (the tribunal hearing) is just to stop (the reclamation) pending further action. "If the parties, after the provisional orders, want to take subsequent steps it is up to the legal process for provisional orders has begun. This is like an injunction in domestic law cases, we are seeking a ‘stop work order'."
A news report in February last year highlighted the fact that Singapore had been carrying out land reclamation in and around the Straits of Johor which undermined the position of Johor's territorial waters.
Malaysia expressed its concern over reclamation in Pulau Tekong, saying it could make certain parts of the Tebrau Straits and Johor Straits even narrower and shallower, making it almost impossible for large vessels to call at the Pasir Gudang and Tanjung Pelepas ports, with ships possibly having to enter Singapore instead of Malaysia.
Malaysian fishermen operating between Tanjung Balau and Pengerang also claimed their livelihood had been severely affected as marine life in the area depleted.
Malaysia then undertook an in-depth study to ascertain the irreversible damage that could be caused by the reclamation works.
The findings, which supported Malaysia's contention, were then forwarded to Singapore and followed by two rounds of discussions which failed to resolve anything.