(Changes dateline, recasts with new Malaysia claim)
By Foo Yun Chee and Jalil Hamid
THE HAGUE/KUALA LUMPUR May 23 The U.N.'s top
court ruled on Friday that Singapore owns a rocky outcrop that
lies on a strategic shipping lane in a verdict that delivered a
lesser prize to fellow claimant Malaysia.
Malaysia promptly claimed ownership of another islet --
South Ledge, which the court left open depending on the
territorial water it lies in -- possibly prolonging a nearly
three decade-old border row between the two adjacent states.
Malaysia suffered a setback after the court awarded to its
neighbour the islet of Pedra Branca, the more strategic and
crucial outcrop in the cluster that lies where the Singapore
Strait meets the South China Sea.
"The court concludes ... that by 1980 sovereignty over
Pedra Banca/Pulau Batu Puteh had passed to Singapore," Judge
Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh said in his ruling, which is final
with no appeals allowed.
The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) also
ruled that Malaysia has sovereignty of a nearby islet known as
"Since South Ledge is within the territorial waters of
Middle Rocks, Malaysia appears to be the sovereign holder,"
Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said in a statement.
"South Ledge is meanwhile now in Malaysian territorial
waters," he said in reference to the issue of where the
maritime border lies, shifting from an earlier position that
the two countries would jointly study the judgment and come up
with a solution regarding South Ledge.
Singapore's foreign ministry said it was not immediately
aware of the Malaysian claim.
Singapore earlier said it was pleased with the judgment
giving it sovereignty over Pedra Branca, the "key feature" of
the dispute, and a minister said he did not expect any problems
between the two countries.
"Malaysia and Singapore have shown through this process a
good example to the rest of the region how such disputes can be
resolved in a peaceful and amicable method," Singapore's Deputy
Prime Minister S. Jayakumar told reporters.
The verdict does not totally resolve the dispute between
the two countries because it only determines the ownership of
the islets and not where the maritime boundary lies.
The outcrop is located on the edge of Singapore Strait,
which together with the adjacent Malacca Strait, carries 40
percent of the world's trade. More than 60,000 ships a year
traverse the waterways, carrying the bulk of oil imports for
Japan and China.
Also called Pulau Batu Puteh by Malaysia, the outcrop is
no larger than half a football field but houses a lighthouse
run by Singapore, home of the world's busiest container port.
Singapore says the city-state has a territorial sea limit
that extends up to a maximum of 12 nautical miles (22.2
"With this decision by the ICJ, Malaysia can from now
enforce any of its sovereign rights towards Middle Rocks,
including occupying the island, allowing fishing, research,
weather forecasting and other activities," Malaysia's Foreign
Minister Rais said earlier. "It is a win-win situation."
But in a further sign that the verdict has already struck a
raw nerve, Malaysia's deputy premier Najib Razak sounded a word
of caution. "The ruling does not mean Singapore can take
unilateral action such as land reclamation," he told local
Malaysia and Singapore have a history of squabbling over
issues ranging from water supplies to land reclamation and
transport links since Singapore gained sovereignty from
Malaysia in 1965.
The verdict could have political implications in Malaysia,
where the opposition is pushing to seize power from the ruling
coalition, which suffered a dismal show at the March general
"It might potentially upset some of the groups that are
very nationalistic in nature for whom this decision represents
Malaysia's honour being slightly stripped away to Singapore,"
said Malaysian political analyst Tricia Yeoh.
The government had earlier warned Malaysians against
holding anti-Singapore protests in the event it lost the case.
(Additional reporting by Liau Y-Sing in Kuala Lumpur, Melanie
Lee in Singapore; Editing by Ramthan Hussain and Bil Tarrant)