Brunei-Limbang Boundaries 101

Did we or did we not? That was the question on quite a number of minds yesterday when seeing the headlines on both Borneo Bulletin and Brunei Times.

I am not here to debate on that. We had our Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II explained the whole thing during yesterday afternoon's session of the Legislative Council.

I go by the joint statement which stated that both Brunei and Malaysia would be able to enforce their rules and regulations and embark on new developments in their respective maritime zones. The modalities of the final demarcation of land boundaries were also included in the Letter of Exchange, for which a joint technical committee will be tasked to sort out the final formalities. It will be resolved on the basis of five existing historical agreements between the governments of Brunei and Sarawak, and where appropriate, on the watershed principle.

What are these five existing historical agreements between Brunei and Sarawak?

I have been keeping this particular map for about two years now, wondering when would this come in handy. This map is not from any Brunei Government source, but is available on the internet from Durham University website. This map comes from a powerpoint slide presentation made by the Director of Survey of the Malaysia's Department of Survey and Mapping and presented during the International Symposium on Land and Boundaries Demarcation and Maintenance in Support of Borderland Development which was held in Bangkok on 6-11 November 2006.

As you can see from the map, there were 5 agreements (green lines boundary):-

1. Agreement relating to the Pandaruan River and District signed by GE Cator (British Resident Brunei) and HSB Johnson (Resident Fifth Division, Sarawak) on 4th February 1920 - 78.0 km.

2. Agreement regarding the boundary between the Belait and the Baram rivers from the sea coast to the Pagalayan Canal signed by British Resident Brunei and HD Aplin, Resident Fourth Division Sarawak on 25th August 1931 - 29.7 km.

3. Agreement regarding the boundary between Trusan and Temburong from the Coast to Bukit Sagan, signed by British Resident Brunei and Resident Fifth Division on 31st October 1931 - 19.0 km.

4. Agreement regarding the boundary between Limbang and Brunei from the coast to a point west of Bukit Gadong, signed by British Resident Brunei and Resident Fifth Division Sarawak on 24th February 1933 - 37.0 km.

5. Agreement regarding the boundary from the Pagalayan Canal to Teraja Highlands signed by the British Resident Brunei and Resident Fourth Division Sarawak on 4th November 1939.

Altogether 207.3 km of boundary had been agreed on but another 274 km of boundary now had to be worked out together using watershed principles where appropriate. Officially a watershed is the "entire region drained by a waterway that drains into a lake or reservoir; total area above a given point on a stream that contributes water to the flow at that point; the topographic dividing line from which surface streams flow in two different directions." Watersheds are not just water. A single watershed is an area which may include combinations of forests, glaciers, deserts and/or grasslands. Normally you take the ridge of an area, one side going say to Brunei and the other side to Limbang.

I am not that much worried about the land boundary or the issue of claims. To me personally, the bigger issue is economics. We heard the MOF II stating that for next financial year, there will be a deficit. We do need the extra money to compensate for the deficit to fund the government's expenditure otherwise we have to take it out of our reserves. The maritime agreement already allow us to embark on new development in our maritime area which is now clearly defined, that should be the focus. We know there is great potential there. We should focus on what is more important.


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