Indonesia accepts Malaysia’s win of disputed islets

3RD LD: Indonesia accepts Malaysia’s win of disputed islets

JAKARTA, Dec. 17 Kyodo


The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled Tuesday that Malaysia has sovereignty over two small islands off Borneo Island, which had also been claimed by Indonesia, ending a 33-year territorial dispute between the two countries.

”The court concludes…that sovereignty over Pulau (Island) Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan belongs to Malaysia,” the court said in a statement.

The 16-1 ruling by the court, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is final and binding on both sides, without any chance of appeal.

The ruling rejected Indonesia’s claim to sovereignty based on 1891 maps drawn up by the Netherlands when it ruled Indonesia, then called the East Indies. Britain, which ruled Malaysia, then Malaya, in those days, never disputed Dutch claims over the two islets.

The court, however, awarded the islets to Malaysia based on the fact that the British government had demonstrated effective administration over them through such acts as issuing permits on the establishment of bird sanctuary in 1917, regulating tax collection of turtle eggs in 1930 and building lighthouses in 1960s.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda accepted the loss of the islands, telling a press conference in Jakarta that ”deep disappointment is almost unavoidable because maximum efforts exerted by Indonesia’s four governments since 1997 failed to produce the anticipated result.”

But he said Indonesia is ”obliged to respect” the agreement it made with Malaysia in 1997 when the two countries jointly submitted the case to the world court.

”Therefore, the Indonesian government accepts the decision by the International Court of Justice as final and binding,” he added.

”The Indonesian government believes that the whole legal process to solve the dispute through the International Court of Justice had been going on fairly, transparently, responsibly and respectably.”

Meanwhile, the Malaysian news agency Bernama quoted Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying the decision will strengthen the relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia.

”We don’t only want to maintain the present level of relationship, but wish to make it even stronger,” Abdullah said.

Hassan shared the same feeling, saying the decision ”has closed a historical period in the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia” and at the same time has ”opened a new period…which is bigger, more mature and more productive between the governments and the people of the two countries.”

”Solving the dispute peacefully for once and forever is the best heritage we can bequeath to this generation and the next one,” he said.

According to Hassan, the dispute was politically sensitive, but a peaceful solution, based on a choice jointly determined by both sides, has prevented ”a possible armed conflict and casualties” from occurring.

”The solution of this case has strengthened the importance of the use of peaceful ways in solving territorial disputes and other problems in Southeast Asian region…It’s a precedent and an example for inter-country interaction in this region in the future,” he said.

Ligitan and Sipadan lie off Indonesia’s East Kalimantan Province and Malaysia’s Sabah State, both located on Borneo.

Both sides have made overlapping territorial claims over the two islands, which geographically lie closer to Malaysia, since 1969, when they began negotiations to delineate their common border.

A series of bilateral negotiations had been undertaken since 1989, but to no avail. Thus, in 1997, the two countries referred the dispute to the world court.

Sipadan has been occupied by Malaysia, which has touted it as a diving resort to international tourists since the 1970s.

It has been considered one of the top 10 diving spots in the world, with six resorts on the island catering mostly to professional divers. Access to the island is restricted to 80 divers at one time and 40 resort staffers to protect the coral reefs and wildlife.

The islet received international attention when separatist Philippine rebels of the Islamic militant Abu Sayyaf group abducted 10 Western tourists and 11 others there in 2000.

No Indonesians, including journalists, have been allowed to enter Sipadan, and last Friday an Indonesian journalist working for Tempo magazine was deported after entering the island.

Ligitan itself is a coral island, known as a place where many sea snakes can be found.

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