- 2007/11/09 Johor govt letter disclaims ownership Batu Puteh

Singapore today dwell at length with the 1953 letter by the acting Johor state secretary, which it claimed expressed disclaimer of title to Pulau Batu Puteh, the subject of a sovereignty dispute between Malaysia and Singapore before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) here.

Singapore regarded the letter written on Sept 21, 1953 to Singapore's Colonial Secretary stating that "the Johor Government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca" (Singapore's name for Pulau Batu Puteh) as an extremely important disclaimer.

Prof Alain Pellet representing Singapore, in his oral presentation, argued that the letter had established the absence of title of Pulau Batu Puteh to Johor and subsequently Malaysia.

He contended that on the strength of the reply from Johor, Singapore could claim sovereignty over Pulau Batu Puteh.

The letter was in response to an enquiry dated June 12, 1953 made on behalf of the Singapore Colonial Secretary seeking to clarify the status of Pulau Batu Puteh where a lighthouse has been built with a view to determine the "boundaries of the Colony's territorial waters.

Prof Pellet, who referred to the letter on numerous occasions during the proceedings, dismissed Malaysia's contention that the letter was only in reference to the Horsburgh lighthouse and not the island. He contended that the letter had explicitly sought for information to "clarify the "status of Pedra Branca".

And the answer given was that "the Johor Government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca," Pellet said.

He submitted that the land commissioner and chief surveyor of Johor were consulted regarding the information sought which dealt on the island itself and not the lighthouse completed in 1951.

He said that even if Johor had ownership of the island before 1953, through the letter it was now disclaiming such an ownership.

As for Malaysia's assertion that the "correspondence" indicated Singapore's clear understanding of the absence of Singapore's sovereignty over Pulau Batu Puteh, he said the reply by the Johor's acting state secretary had eliminated all uncertainties.

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar wrapped up the first round of the republic's oral presentation, contending that Malaysia's theory that Pulau Batu Puteh belonged to the country was inconsistent with the letter where Johor never regarded the island as theirs.

"Instead, the state of Johor confirms the exact opposite of what Malaysia now maintains," he said.

"They (Johor) did not come to the conclusion that what Malaysia now urges to the court," he said.

On Malaysia's contention that the letter was not a "model of clarity" he said what "could be more clear from these words."

Jayakumar also submitted on Malaysia's "silence" for the last 130 years and its non-protest over activities conducted on Pulau Batu Puteh by Singapore relating to the lighthouse and non-lighthouse activities.

He said this "silence" must show that "everything done by Singapore did not come under the scope for Johor's permission."

The Deputy Prime Minister contended that it also implied that Malaysia never regarded itself as having title to the island.

He said that it was only in 1979 when Malaysia issued a map placing Pulau Batu Puteh as part of its territory, more than 130 years later.

Up to that point, Malaysia's actions were consistent with a party which had no claim on Pulau Batu Puteh and had no interest to do so.

Prior to 1979, maps issued by Malaysia attributed Pulau Batu Puteh as belonging to Singapore, he said.

Earlier, another of Singapore's counsel, Rodman R Bundy, argued that the British government had always sought permission from the Malay rulers if it wanted to build lighthouses on any of the territories belonging to the rulers, coupled with written agreements.

This was done in the case of Pulau Pisang and Cape Ricardo where permissions were granted to build lighthouses.

However, in the case of Pulau Batu Puteh there was no written agreement for the construction of the Horsburgh Lighthouse as the structure was not on a territory belonging to local rulers.

In its memorial submitted to the court, Malaysia says Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, and other islands in and around the Singapore Strait were part of the Sultanate of Johor before 1824.

This was unaffected by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, which concerned only islands and territories to the south of the strait, it said in its memorial.

Malaysia said in its written pleadings its sovereignty over Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge are also based on the fact that neither Great Britain nor Singapore ever claimed sovereignty over the three features at any time prior to the critical dates in relation to the present dispute (1980 in the case of Pulau Batu Puteh, 1993 in the case of the other two features).

It said Singapore's legislation and treaty practice, its publications and maps as well as statements by knowledgeable Singapore officials all confirmed that the three features were not territories of Singapore, but were administered as part of the territory of Singapore.

Singapore, in its memorial, argues that the title to Pedra Branca (Singapore's name for Pulau Batu Puteh) already vested in the British Crown and subsequently in Singapore as the result of official actions that took place on the island in the period 1847-1851.

It claimed that during this period, the British Crown acquired the title to Pulau Batu Puteh when it took lawful possession of the island and completed the erection of the Horsburgh Lighthouse.

The Malaysian delegation is headed by Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad, Ambassador at Large, who is also the Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs.

He is Malaysia's agent for the case while Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, the Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands, acts as co-agent.

The court will hear Malaysia's oral presentation on Tuesday.

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