Malaysia steps up pressure on Singapore over island dispute

Kuala Lumpur, Dec 24, IRNA -- Malaysia on Tuesday stepped up the pressure on Singapore over the Batu Puteh island (White Rock island) sovereignty claim issue, with the government saying it would lodge a protest over continuing construction activity on the island amid calls for counter-measures to be taken.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday has criticised Singapore for construction work on a disputed island.
But, "short of going to war," there was little Malaysia could do to deal with the situation on Batu Puteh island off Johor state neighbouring to Singapore, Dr Mahathir said.
Singapore did not always observe international norms and Malaysia had problems dealing with it, he said.
"When we deal with Singapore, we often face problems because it goes beyond accepted norms.
"By right, when the ownership of the island is in dispute, there should not be development or construction activities there," Dr Mahathir added.
The Malaysia's ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) Secretary-general Mohd Khalil Yaakob said it was uncalled for because the dispute over the island's sovereignty had yet to be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
He was commenting on a recent front-page report in a Malay paper that the republic had started to construct a two-storey building and a helipad on the island although its sovereignty status had not been decided.
The paper had also quoted Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar as saying that Singapore had acted as if it owned the island, adding that a protest note would be sent to the republic.
Khalil said such "act of disrespect" by Singapore was trying UMNO's patience.
The party, he added, would pressure the Government to stop the construction works.
"Malaysia has been tolerant and had adhered to all international rules and regulations pertaining to the dispute, but Singapore continues to breach such understanding," he told newsmen in Kuantan, about 300 km east of here, as quoted by Bernama news agency .
Khalil, who is also information minister, said Umno would compile all evidence concerning the matter, including pictures and video images, before sending Singapore a memorandum on the issue.
"Singapore's arrogance is nothing new but Umno will continue protesting even if it means bringing the matter right to the doors of the Singapore government," he said.
Worried that the construction work would weaken Malaysia's case for ownership of the island, some leaders and newspapers asked the government to build structures on it while others wanted marine forces to start patrolling the waters around it.
Singapore has maintained that Pedra Branca, which the Malaysians call Pulau (Island) Batu Puteh or White Rock Island, is part of its territory.
The Singapore government and its predecessors have occupied and exercised full sovereignty over the island and the waters around it since the 1840s.
It has also administered the Horsburgh Lighthouse located on the island.
Singapore's ownership of Batu Putih had never been challenged until 1979, when Malaysia first contested it.
"Both sides have agreed to refer the matter for arbitration, so we should cease all activities. We urge Singapore to stop all activities on the island immediately until the matter has been decided by the international court," Khalil was quoted as saying.
Malaysia turned its attention to its claim on Batu Putih following last week's International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict which declared that Kuala Lumpur, and not Jakarta, was the legal owner of the Sipadan and Ligitan islands off the Malaysia's Sabah state.
Singapore has also maintained that Malaysia's claim to Batu Putih should be resolved by the ICJ.
On Tuesday, two of Malaysia's biggest-circulation newspapers also played up the Batu Putih island issue.
UMNO-owned Utusan Malaysia carried the banner headline "Malaysia to send protest" on page one.
It quoted Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar as saying the government would "protest" to the Republic over the construction work. He said Malaysia had sent a similar protest to Singapore this year but the construction work did not stop.
The Utusan report was a follow-up to a report in its Sunday edition which front-paged the issue and accused the Republic of building structures despite the unresolved dispute.
The government-friendly Berita Harian, for its part, carried the headline, "Youth demands action against Singapore's move."
It quoted Shamsul Anwar Sulaiman, chairman of Umno Youth's international affairs bureau, as saying Malaysia should build a lighthouse sub-station, weather monitoring or marine study station on Batu Putih.
Berita Harian said Malaysia could send its navy or marine police to patrol the waters to strengthen its claim.