MALAYSIA is looking to revive a long-standing territorial tussle with Singapore over Pedra Branca, a small yet strategic islet that was granted to the city state by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2008.
Reports last week said the Malaysian government applied to The Hague for a review of ICJ’s decision, citing the discovery of “new evidence” in several documents from the British archive that it says backs Malaysia’s claim over Pedra Branca, which is also known as the Pulau Batu Puteh.
The application could add strain to the already thorny relationship between the two Southeast Asian neighbours, but according to Malaysia’s deputy foreign minister Reezan Merican Naina Merican on Sunday, the government will continue to insist on defending its maritime borders.
He was quoted by local news agency Bernama as saying: “We bring (the case) to the ICJ because it cannot be done unilaterally, we take it mutually and this is a normal matter and like the previous decision given by the ICJ in favour of Singapore, did not result in deterioration of (our) relationship … in fact, our trade ties went up.
“(However) the government will never let go any single possibility to defend our sovereignty because it is paramount to us. We will fight to maintain, defend and retain our sovereignty.”
Last week, after applying for the review of ICJ’s decision, Malaysian Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali told local media that the government’s discovery of new facts in three documents from the National Archives of the United Kingdom was important and should be brought to The Hague.
SEE ALSO: Revisiting Pedra Branca
“The application, which was filed at the International Court of Justice, The Hague, was made by Malaysia upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgment was given, unknown to the court and also to Malaysia as the party claiming revision,” Apandi said Friday as quoted by The Star (via national news agency Bernama).
“We are also confident that the requirements as stipulated under Article 61 of the statute of the International Court of Justice have been met in that, inter alia, the application for revision is brought within six months of the discovery of the new fact, and within 10 years of the date of the judgment.” he said.
Citing ICJ’s website, Channel News Asia (CNA) said Malaysia in its application to the court contended that the documents were internal correspondence of the Singapore colonial authorities in 1958, an incident report filed in 1958 by a British naval officer, and an annotated map of naval operations from the 1960s.
The court said after finding the new facts, Malaysia now claims “officials at the highest levels in the British colonial and Singaporean administration appreciated that Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh did not form part of Singapore’s sovereign territory”.
“The Court would have been bound to reach a different conclusion on the question of sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh had it been aware of this new evidence,” Malaysia reportedly claimed in the application.
The Malaysian government also claimed that it only discovered the documents upon reviewing the archival files after the judgement was handed out in 2008 and not because they “were ignored due to negligence”, according to CNA.
SEE ALSO: Goodbye Pulau Batu Putih …
Apandi said Malaysia’s application falls within the statute of limitations set by the ICJ, which allows appeals to be brought within six months of the discovery of a new fact and within 10 years of the date of judgment.
In 2003, Malaysia and Singapore took to the ICJ to arbitrate the tussle over Pedra Branca, which is home to a lighthouse, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, seeking to end three decades of wrangling over the islets.
According to South China Morning Post, Pedra Branca and the other islets are located about 7.7 nautical miles (14km) off the coast of southern Malaysia and 24 nautical miles (44kms) off the east coast of Singapore. ICJ awarded Middle Rocks to Malaysia and South Ledge to Singapore in the territorial waters of which it is located.
Since the ruling, the Singapore government maintains that Pedra Branca has long been of strategic importance as it commands the entire eastern approach to the Straits of Singapore, through which almost 900 ships pass daily.
The oldest feature on the island, it said is Horsburgh Lighthouse, which was built on the island by the British between 1847 and 1851.
“It is Singapore’s case that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore because the British colonial government took possession of the island over 160 years ago to build Horsburgh Lighthouse and other structures on it. At that time, Pedra Branca was uninhabited and it belonged to no one,”
“Since then, Singapore has continuously and openly conducted acts of a sovereign nature over the entire island and its surrounding waters. In contrast, Malaysia did nothing and did not protest against any of the actions of Singapore,” the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on its website.
In response to the new claim, Singapore has assembled a legal team comprising Attorney-General Lucien Wong, Professor S Jayakumar, Professor Tommy Koh and former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, to study the application.
“Singapore is studying Malaysia’s application and documentation closely and has formed its legal team to respond to Malaysia’s application,” Singapore’s Foreign Affairs ministry said on Friday.