KL, Jakarta a step closer to resolving islands row

Draft pact reached on claims to International Court

INDONESIA and Malaysia edged closer to resolving a dispute over two small islands which lie off the coast between Sabah and East Kalimantan as senior officials from both countries concluded a draft agreement to submit their claims to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Speaking to The Straits Times after a two-day bilateral meeting in Bandung which began on Monday, Malaysian delegation head Datuk Abdul Kadir Mohamad said both countries had worked out the “modalities” of the submission process before the dispute was referred to the ICJ in The Hague.

“We have agreed on a draft special agreement that will be submitted to our respective governments for approval,” he said, adding that once it was approved, it would have to be ratified.

“The most important thing is that the case is no longer disturbing relations between Indonesia and Malaysia.”

Mr Arizal Affendi, head of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s legal and international affairs department, said the two countries would be going for a full hearing to be presided over by 17 judges.

Each country would forward evidence to back its claim then, he said.

Both sides agreed to third-party mediation over claims to the Ligitan and Sipadan islands when Indonesian President Suharto met Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur last October.

The two countries have been trying to resolve the issue since 1991.

Mr Izhar Ibrahim, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s director-general for political affairs, described the senior officials’ meeting as “a big success” as it was only the second meeting on the matter.

The first was held in Kuala Lumpur in January.

But he stressed that the draft was still subject to changes after it had been handed to the foreign ministers of the two countries.

“It depends on whether they would enlarge or reduce the agreement,” news reports yesterday quoted him.

He said it was important now for both countries not to make any claims on the islands and added that the ICJ’s involvement was not a setback for Asean, which had its own dispute settlement mechanism.

Political observers here hailed the meeting’s successful outcome as another step forward in settling the long standing dispute.

A senior Indonesian military officer at the talks in Bandung said the officials could iron out the details without many hitches because of political backing from the two countries’ leaders. “The meeting was a success,” he said. “We will be going to the ICJ.”

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