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Sunday June 1, 2008

Malaysia not giving up hope on Batu Puteh yet

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has renewed the search for evidence to stake its claim on Batu Puteh, whose sovereignty was deemed to be under Singapore by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said although the ruling by the ICJ at The Hague on May 23 was final and not subject to appeal, there was a specific provision in the court’s rules that allowed for a judicial review of a case within 10 years if new evidence was adduced.

As such, he said he had directed Wisma Putra to try again to trace the ancient letter written by British Governor William T. Butterworth to the Temenggong and Sultan of Johor seeking permission to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse on Batu Puteh.

During the hearing, Malaysia had contended that it was on the basis of the consent of the Temenggong and Johor Sultan via a reply dated Nov 25, 1844 (this letter was produced to the ICJ) that Great Britain built and then operated the lighthouse on the island.

“If we can gain sight of that letter, the gate can be opened again. There is a maximum 10-year period but preferably it should be done within six years.

”The letter could be in London, the British being too good at archiving. We have searched with them but it has not been conclusively proven that they don’t have it.

“Probably it is in Singapore. That would be a double jeopardy,” Dr Rais said in an interview.

It is learnt that the initial search for the letter covered 40 institutions in 11 countries – Britain, India, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the Netherlands, Portugal, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

In 1994, Malaysia requested Singapore to furnish a copy of the governor’s letter if it was in its possession but the republic did not respond.

Ambassador-at-large Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad, who was Malaysia’s agent at the ICJ hearing, had told the court that if the letter still existed, it was likely to be in Singapore’s archives in the file named “Letters to Native Rulers” which Malaysia did not have access to.

Dr Rais explained that Malaysia could introduce a separate motion to the ICJ if the letter was found.

The ICJ awarded sovereignty of Batu Puteh to Singapore in a 12-4 decision, mainly on the basis that Malaysia had not done anything to invoke its rights on the island, which Singapore calls Pedra Branca, for over 100 years.

The ruling on Middle Rocks was 15-1 in Malaysia’s favour. On the other disputed territory of South Ledge, the ICJ ruled that it belonged to the country in whose territorial waters the outcrop was located.

The ICJ’s “split” decision brought to a close the 28-year-old territorial dispute between both countries. Singapore first laid claim to Batu Puteh through a diplomatic note protesting the inclusion of the island as part of Malaysia in a 1979 map.

Dr Rais, who heads the technical committee for Malaysia set up to determine the South Ledge issue, said Wisma Putra secretary-general Tan Sri Rastam Mohamed Isa had led a team of officials to the republic on Wednesday to get things going.

The minister said he agreed with views by law experts that the crucial thing for both countries to do now was to demarcate the waters in the area to avoid problems and confusion.

He said he would propose to Singapore that the waters off Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge be opened to fishermen from both countries and also Indonesia.

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