February 07, 2003

Malaysia, Singapore take row to world court

The rocky outcrop row is one of several prickly issues for the two nations
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (Reuters) -- Neighbors Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to take a row over a rocky outcrop off their coasts to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar and his Singaporean counterpart, S. Jayakumar, said their signatures on a deal to decide the islet's sovereignty marked the way for the two sides to sort out various other bilateral disputes.
"We are signaling to the world that's the way forward. I hope this will characterize the way we solve other issues," Jayakumar said on Thursday, his words echoed by Syed Hamid.
But the ministers found it trickier to agree what would happen before their day in court comes along in some two years' time, offering plenty of scope for further disagreement over the outcrop Singapore calls Pedra Branca and Malaysia calls Pulau Batu Puteh.
Singapore operates a lighthouse on the outcrop, about 15 km (10 miles) from peninsular Malaysia's southeastern tip, with its naval patrol boats policing the surrounding waters to the annoyance of Kuala Lumpur.
An aerial view of the disputed island

The row has prompted talk of war over the islet, a notion dismissed as highly improbable by diplomats and analysts on both sides of the narrow straits separating the countries.
The two close trading partners share a history of prickly but non-violent ties since they separated in 1965 after a brief union in the years following independence from Britain.
They are at odds over a range of other issues including the price Singapore pays Malaysia for water, the release of pension payments made by Malaysians working in Singapore and the use of Malaysian air space by Singapore's air force.