KOTA TINGGI (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian said he does not need the "blessing" of Malaysia's Foreign Ministry to carry out his duties as the state's chief minister, as he defended himself for making a visit on Jan 9 to waters off Tuas.
Malaysia's Foreign Ministry, in a statement last Friday (Jan 18), denied that its minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah gave Datuk Osman his "unofficial blessing" to board MV Pedoman, a Malaysian Marine Department vessel anchored off Tuas, in what Malaysia maintains is its territory under Johor Baru port.
Singapore has consistently treated the area as part of its territorial waters.
Mr Osman said on Sunday (Jan 20): "I have said it earlier, and I will say it again, my visit to MV Pedoman was because the crewmen had been there for more than a month.
"I was acting in my capacity as the state leader and the visit was within Johor waters even though the Foreign Ministry claimed that it did not have their blessing.
"Let's say if I wanted to make a visit within the Johor district, do I need permission from the Home Ministry?"
Last Thursday (Jan 17), Mr Osman claimed he had the "unofficial blessing" of Foreign Minister Saifuddin to board the vessel.
But Malaysia's Foreign Ministry denied approving his trip, saying last Friday that "upon learning of the planned visit from a Malaysian enforcement agency on the morning of 9 January itself", it "immediately and repeatedly contacted the chief minister's office and conveyed a message not to proceed with the visit".
Mr Osman's action resulted in the postponement of the Jan 14 meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia, as Singapore said the intrusion made the bilateral talks "untenable". The chief minister also sits on the panel.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also confirmed last Friday that "the Menteri Besar went without our permission", adding that "he thought it was Johor waters, that's why he went there".
Tun Mahathir described Singapore's reaction as quite severe, "as if you are going to war".
The Foreign Ministry said Singapore and Malaysia will discuss bilateral maritime issues next Monday. Officials will discuss airspace concerns in "coming weeks", including the Instrument Landing System and approach procedures for Seletar Airport.