PM Anwar told Malaysia’s A-G to review Pedra Branca issue for ‘meaningful’ talks with Singapore

The International Court of Justice in 2008 awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca to Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia’s Attorney-General has been instructed to review matters pertaining to claims over Pedra Branca so that negotiations with Singapore on the issue will be more fruitful, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on Wednesday.

Datuk Seri Anwar said A-G Idrus Harun was also asked to look into the impact of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s decision to award Singapore legal jurisdiction of Pedra Branca, which Malaysia calls Batu Puteh, The Star daily reported.

“The Cabinet has tasked the A-G to look into the matter so that negotiations and discussions with Singapore on Batu Puteh will have a meaningful outcome.

“Further, we do not want this to result in issues or problems in the relations of two neighbouring friends,” he said to reporters after chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, as reported by The Star.

On Oct 13 this year, then-prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said his Cabinet was informed of the possibility of negligence and mistakes made by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when he was premier in 2018, when withdrawing an application to review the ICJ’s decision on Pedra Branca.

Dr Mahathir, who headed the Pakatan Harapan federal government in 2018, withdrew the application before the case was scheduled to be heard on June 11 that year. He said the withdrawal was based on the advice of former A-G Apandi Ali.

Pedra Branca is an island located at the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait, about 24 nautical miles (44km) east of Singapore.

The British colonial government took possession of it to build Horsburgh Lighthouse between 1847 and 1851 and other structures, and since then, Singapore has exercised continuous sovereignty over the island and its adjacent waters.

To the south of Pedra Branca are two maritime features – Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

Both countries took the territorial dispute to the ICJ and in 2008, the court awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca to Singapore in the case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

The ICJ also decided that sovereignty over Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia, and sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

Singapore in October this year noted Malaysia’s press statement that it intends to continue legal action in the ICJ on the issue of sovereignty over Pedra Branca, and said the Republic stands ready to defend its sovereignty over the island.

Singapore will also deal with any legal action Malaysia might pursue, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) had said in October, in response to media queries.

“Singapore is unable to comment on Malaysia’s latest intentions since no details have been shared,” the spokesman said then.

“Singapore stands ready to robustly defend our sovereignty over Pedra Branca and will deal with whatever legal action Malaysia may pursue,” he added.

The MFA in October noted that after the ICJ’s decision in 2008, both Singapore and Malaysia publicly announced that they would accept and abide by the court’s decision, which is final.

However, in 2017, Malaysia instituted an application for revision and a request for interpretation of the ICJ’s 2008 decision, both of which it subsequently withdrew in 2018.

MFA added that under the statute of the court, an application for revision cannot be made after the expiry of 10 years from the date of the court’s 2008 judgment – that is, May 2018.

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