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June 2, 2008
Malaysia not giving up hope on Pedra Branca yet
KL seeking letter by British governor to Johor sultan to back up claim to island
KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIA has renewed its search for evidence to stake its claim to Pedra Branca, just over a week after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded the island to Singapore.

Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said he has directed his officials to try again to trace a letter written by British governor William Butterworth to the temenggong and sultan of Johor seeking permission to build Horsburgh Lighthouse on the island, The Star daily reported yesterday.

Dr Rais said in an interview with the paper that although the ICJ's ruling on May 23 was final and not subject to appeal, there was a specific provision in the court's rules that allowed for a judicial review of a case within 10 years if new evidence was found. He did not cite the exact provision.

'If we can gain sight of that letter, the gate can be opened again. There is a maximum 10-year period but preferably it should be done within six years,' he said.

During the hearing, Malaysia had contended that Britain had built and operated the lighthouse after getting consent from the Johor rulers.

In its argument before the ICJ, Malaysia had cited governor Butterworth's letters as one of the grounds for its claim to Pedra Branca.

The Star reported that a search for the 19th-century letter had covered 40 institutions in 11 countries, including Britain, India, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the Netherlands, Portugal, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

'The letter could be in London...We have searched with them but it has not been conclusively proven that they don't have it,' said Dr Rais.

'Probably it is in Singapore. That would be a double jeopardy,' he added.

During the hearing, Malaysia had insinuated that Singapore might have hidden two 1844 letters from governor Butterworth to the rulers of Johor seeking permission to build a lighthouse near Point Romania on the Johor coast.

But Singapore Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar countered that Singapore did not have copies of the letters, and had also searched in vain for them in various archives. He also pointed out that since the letters were sent to Johor's rulers, they were more likely to be in Johor than in Singapore.

Both countries also disputed the area referred to in the letters for which permission was sought. Malaysia said it included Pedra Branca, while Singapore maintained it referred to another group of islands.

Dr Rais said Malaysia could introduce a separate motion to the ICJ if the letter was found.

The ICJ ruling has raised much unhappiness among Malaysian MPs.

Earlier last week, an Umno MP lambasted the government for not archiving its historical documents properly, and thus failing to locate the Butterworth letter.

Following the ICJ's ruling - which awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore and Middle Rocks to Malaysia - the two countries now have to work out how to delimit the territorial waters in the area.

The court did not make a definitive ruling on an outcrop, South Ledge, which is visible only at low tide, saying it belonged to whoever owns the territorial waters it sits in.

Dr Rais said he would propose to Singapore that the waters be opened to fishermen from both countries and also Indonesia.

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