Malaysia says Singapore trying to expand sea borders

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THE HAGUE, Nov 13 (Reuters) Malaysia told the UN's highest court today that its neighbour Singapore was seeking to enlarge its sea border by claiming sovereignty over three disputed islands close to key shipping lanes.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) started hearings last week into the territorial dispute between the two countries, which both claim sovereignty over a chain of three rocky islets located about 15 km off peninsular Malaysia's southern coast.

''Singapore seeks to disrupt the longstanding arrangements in the Straits. Singapore is endeavouring to create for itself a maritime domain,'' Abdul Kadir Mohamad, an adviser for foreign affairs to Malaysia's prime minister, told the court.

Malaysia and Singapore have a history of bickering over issues ranging from water supplies to transport links since Singapore gained sovereignty from Malaysia in 1965.

The main rocky outcrop on the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait -- 137 metres by 60 metres (450 feet by 200 feet) -- is known as Pulau Batu Puteh in Malaysia and Pedra Branca in Singapore. The court will also determine the status of two other nearby islets known as Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

Singapore told the court last week it claimed sovereignty of Pedra Branca as it is the successor to Britain, its former colonial ruler, which acquired sovereignty more than 100 years ago by building a lighthouse on the outcrop.

It is also claiming sovereignty over the other two islets, saying they lie in the same territorial waters as Pedra Branca.

Malaysia's Mohamad criticised Singapore's decision to station naval vessels on Pulau Batu Puteh in 1996 and keep a 24-hour guard. He said fishermen were being ''chased away'' from their fishing grounds, while Malaysian naval vessels could not approach the island without being challenged.

''Our problem is with Singapore's military presence. We have no problem with Singapore's operation of the lighthouse,'' he said.

The hearings will continue through November 23.

The ICJ or the World Court was set up in 1946 to resolve disputes between states. Its rulings are final and cannot be appealed. The court usually takes several years to rule on border and territorial disputes.


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