PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The status of a national park and sultanate land is not the same and the Johor sultanate should revert Pulau Kukup to its former status, said Malaysian Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Tuesday (Dec 11).
Muhyiddin said he was "angry" when he knew that Pulau Kukup was degazetted to be converted into sultanate land.
Speaking to reporters, he said Pulau Kukup, a beautiful island and one of the largest, should not be disturbed and be allowed to remain as a national park to preserve its natural diversity.
"Degazetting and transferring the national park into sultanate land is changing the ownership. I appeal to the Sultan to return it to what it was before. Now, any party can go in (to develop)."
Pulau Kukup, located off the coast of Pontian in south Johor, has been a national park since 1997 and is mostly uninhabited.
Known as the world's second-largest uninhabited mangrove island, Pulau Kukup is one of five Ramsar sites in Malaysia. Ramsar sites are wetland sites accorded international importance under the United Nations' Convention on Wetlands.
Malaysians were surprised when it was recently revealed that the Johor state government, under Pakatan Harapan, had quietly degazetted the island to make it the "sultanate land" of Johor.
Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar issued a statement last week saying that the island should continue to be managed by the state government.
Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim had claimed that Pulau Kukup will be "better protected" after its status is changed from national park to sultanate land.
In response to the federal government's statement, the prince said as "an outsider, you don't need to meddle in matters related to Johor".
That drew a sharp retort from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
"Malaysians are not outsiders. The federal government is not an outsider. We are responsible for all things in the country," Tun Dr Mahathir said on Monday.
Lawyers for Liberty have asked why the stripping of national park status was done "silently", without any public announcement, until the gazette was leaked online.