M'sia-S'pore ministerial meeting postponed over 'intrusion into S'pore waters'

JOHOR BARU: The annual Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM), which is scheduled to be held over the next few days, has officially been postponed over what Singapore claimed was an intrusion by the Johor Mentri Besar into its territorial waters.

A Singapore foreign ministry spokesman in a brief media statement said: "The intrusion by Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian into Singapore Territorial Waters off Tuas on Jan 9, 2019 made the 14th JMCIM meeting untenable.

"Singapore, therefore, proposed to postpone the JMCIM meeting, and Malaysia agreed," said the spokesman.

The Star first reported that the JMCIM meeting was in limbo after a Marine Department vessel, with the Johor Mentri Besar onboard, sailed near disputed waters between the two countries.

Singapore responded to the incident by sending several vessels to the area off the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, while expressing its dissatisfaction over the incident on Wednesday (Jan 9).

Following the alleged intrusion, sources said Malaysia’s participation in JMCIM, which is supposed to be held on Monday in Singapore, was in limbo and the meeting could be postponed at the 11th hour.

The Malaysian delegation for the meeting was supposed to have been led by Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian and other Johor state leaders. Several ministers from Singapore was also supposed to attend the JMCIM.

It is learnt that other government officials were onboard MV Pedoman with Osman, and they were briefed on the territorial dispute by senior Marine Department officers.

They were out at sea for two hours, at the end of which Osman thanked the officers for their commitment to ensuring the security of the country’s border.

Meanwhile several Singapore vessels were seen sailing into the area at the same time.

The incident came days after both countries agreed to measures to find mutually agreeable solution and de-escalate tensions over bilateral disputes.

On Jan 8, Malaysia and Singapore agreed for both sides to immediately and simultaneously suspend Malaysia’s permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang and Singapore’s implementation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedure for Seletar Airport.

Both suspensions are for a period of one month in the first instance, according to a joint statement issued after a bilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and his Singapore counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in Singapore.

Both countries agreed that in the meantime the respective transport ministers should meet soon for discussions on the restricted area and the ILS procedure to ensure the safety and efficiency of civil aviation.

On maritime issues surrounding the Johor Baru and Singapore port limits, the two ministers agreed to set up a working group headed by the permanent secretary of the Singapore Foreign Ministry and the Wisma Putra secretary-general.