DEC 27, 2002 FRI

Singapore refutes 'wild' KL allegations

Singapore delaying referring Malaysia's claim on Pedra Branca to arbitration? It's absolutely wrong, says the Republic

By Brendan Pereira

THE small lighthouse island of Pedra Branca to the east of Singapore has once again become a flashpoint between the Republic and Malaysia.
Singapore vessels on patrol have stopped Malaysian craft from approaching the island. -- THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
After a week of threats and accusations from across the Causeway, Singapore responded yesterday.
Calling the recent allegations reported in the Malaysian media 'wild and irresponsible', a Foreign Ministry spokesman said they were 'wrong both in fact and law'.
He not only debunked the various Malaysian claims but also noted that it was Singapore that had first proposed to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and that was 13 years ago.
This is contrary, he said, to recent Malaysian allegations that Singapore was holding up the signing of a Special Agreement that would allow this to take place.
He said: 'It was Singapore which first proposed to Malaysia in 1989 that Malaysia's claim to Pedra Branca should be referred to the International Court of Justice for resolution. That has always been our position and we stand ready to sign the Special Agreement, to which both sides have agreed, to bring the dispute to the ICJ.'
Asked when Singapore would be ready to sign it, a senior official said: 'Any time.'
Malaysia proposed on Nov 2 that this agreement be signed at the next water talks, but on Nov 29, it called off the talks, saying it wanted to go directly to arbitration.
Singapore has exercised sovereignty over Pedra Branca since the 1840s, when the British colonial government built Horsburgh Lighthouse on the island, to ensure the safety of passing ships.
Singapore has continued to maintain the lighthouse and other facilities needed for navigation.
Malaysia first staked a claim to the island it calls Pulau Batu Putih in 1979, when it published a map of its territorial waters that included the island. It claims the Johor Sultanate has exercised complete jurisdiction and sovereignty over it since 1513.
Since 1979, there have been several incidents at sea, when Malaysian vessels were prevented from approaching the island by Singapore naval vessels patrolling the waters.
The latest took place on Dec 24, when a Republic of Singapore Navy vessel ordered a Malaysian marine police boat to leave the area. The Malaysian boat was ferrying journalists to the site.
The Malaysian media have been playing up the issue for a week since the ICJ ruled in Malaysia's favour in a separate dispute with Indonesia over the Sipadan and Ligatan islands, off the north-east coast of Borneo. Last Sunday, to beef up the Malaysian claim, the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper published on its front page a picture of what it claimed were new structures that Singapore was building on the island.
Yesterday, the MFA's spokesman set the record straight, pointing out that the last things built there were a radar facility in 1989, and a helipad in 1991 'to aid in the safety of navigation in and out of the Straits of Singapore'.
The Malaysian accusations reflected 'either a lack of understanding or misrepresentation of international law', said the spokesman.
'The dispute over Pedra Branca arose in 1979 when Malaysia for the first time contested Singapore's ownership and sovereignty. It is a well-established principle in international law that acts done by the disputing parties in an attempt to advance their own case after the dispute has already arisen will not be given credence,' he said.
He noted that Indonesia had complained to the ICJ about Malaysia's continued activities on Sipadan while the dispute was still before the court.
Malaysia had continued to promote the island, which is among the top diving spots in the world, as one of its tourist destinations.
Malaysia responded that it had done nothing wrong as it was merely continuing actions it had undertaken before the dispute arose.
'Singapore's activities on Pedra Branca are no different in law from Malaysia's actions on Sipadan,' the MFA's spokesman said.
Yesterday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad rejected a politician's call to consider having a military presence near the island. Malaysia, he told reporters, will not station troops or warships in the waters off the island.
He said: 'We want to avoid confrontation. We do not want to go to war with anyone. It is not that we are giving up, we just do not want to find a reason to go to war.'


SEVERAL INCIDENTS

THERE have been several incidents at sea since 1979, when Malaysia staked a claim to the island. Malaysian vessels were prevented from approaching the island by Singapore naval vessels patrolling the waters.
The latest incident took place on Dec 24, when a Republic of Singapore Navy vessel ordered a Malaysian marine police boat to leave the area. The Malaysian boat was ferrying journalists to the site.
A Malaysian paper last Sunday published on its front page a picture of what it claimed were new structures that Singapore was building on the island.
Yesterday, a Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman set the record straight, pointing out that the Republic had not built anything on Pedra Branca for over 10 years.

SINGAPORE'S VIEW

Ready to sign

'It was Singapore which first proposed to Malaysia in 1989 that Malaysia's claim to Pedra Branca should be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. That has always been our position and we stand ready to sign the Special Agreement, to which both sides have agreed, to bring the dispute to the ICJ.' -- A spokesman from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)

Malaysia continued projects on Sipadan

'Malaysia claims that in the Sipadan and Ligitan dispute with Indonesia, Malaysia stopped all the projects on the disputed islands until the dispute was resolved. This is untrue. Indonesia in fact complained to the ICJ about the continued activities by Malaysia on Sipadan. Malaysia rejected these objections and their counsel's argument in the ICJ was that what they did was not wrong because these were merely the continuation of actions they had undertaken before the dispute arose. Singapore's activities on Pedra Branca are no different in law from Malaysia's actions on Sipadan.' -- An MFA spokesman

MALAYSIA'S VIEW

Singapore to blame

'But although Singapore agreed in 1998, they have yet to come up with the necessary documentation to support their claim, and owing to this, the dispute cannot be solved through the International Court of Justice yet... Pulau Batu Putih is important to us because it is our territory. We don't take into consideration whether it is a source of oil or whatever.' -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at a press conference on Dec 25. He was referring to the two countries' agreement in 1998 on the procedure to refer the matter to the ICJ

Location on its side

'Our arguments are solid, whether in terms of history, management and administration or location of the island, which lies within Malaysian waters.' -- Johor Mentri Besar Abdul Ghani Othman