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Malaysia withdraws application to revise 2008 judgment on Pedra Branca

Withdrawal of challenge over sovereignty of island in South China Sea brings end to dispute in International Court of Justice

Malaysia has withdrawn its application to revise a 2008 judgment on Pedra Branca - relinquishing for good its right to challenge the ruling that awarded sovereignty of the island to Singapore.

It will also discontinue a separate application for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to interpret that same judgment.

In a statement yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Malaysia had informed the ICJ on Monday that it would stop the proceedings it had initiated earlier.

A day later, Singapore told the court it agreed with Malaysia's request.

Malaysia's Solicitor-General had earlier written to inform Singapore's Attorney-General of Malaysia's intention, and Singapore replied to convey its agreement on this count, MFA said.

In letters dated May 29, the ICJ informed both countries that it had placed on record the discontinuance of proceedings and directed that the cases be removed from the court's list.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday that Singapore had been confident of its case and the correctness of the original ICJ decision.

"When Malaysia requested to discontinue the cases, without them being argued, we were happy to agree. Both Malaysia and Singapore had gone through the due legal process and put this matter to rest," he said.

Malaysia's withdrawal brings to a close a long-running saga which began in 1979 and was thought to have been resolved when the ICJ ruled on May 23, 2008 that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore. Malaysia applied to revise the ICJ's judgment on Feb 2 last year.

Pedra Branca - also known as Pulau Batu Puteh - houses the Horsburgh Lighthouse, and is about 40km east of Singapore.

Under the ICJ's Statute, an application for revision must be made within 10 years of the judgment. Malaysia's withdrawal means that 10-year window has lapsed.

In 2008, the court also ruled on the sovereignty of two other maritime features near Pedra Branca - it said Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia, but it did not make a definitive ruling on South Ledge, saying it belongs to whoever owns the territorial waters it sits in.

On June 30 last year, Malaysia submitted a second application asking the ICJ to declare the waters around Pedra Branca to be Malaysian waters - and, by extension, to rule that South Ledge belongs to Malaysia.

In its application for revision, Malaysia cited three new documents discovered in the British Archives to argue against the original decision.

Professor Simon Chesterman, dean of the National University of Singapore's Law Faculty, noted in a Facebook post: "Withdrawing the case suggests that the new government in KL does not think that either end justifies continuing the two applications, as well as avoiding the possibility of an embarrassing double loss," he said.

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