Brunei's ruling sultan has urged his people to support the implementation next month of a form of Islamic Shariah law that includes harsh penalties, and says foreign countries should respect the country's decision.

Starting in April, the tiny Southeast Asian nation will begin phasing in a version of Shariah that allows for penalties such as amputation for theft and stoning for adultery.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah told legislators Thursday that the laws are a "great achievement for the country, and not a backward or old-fashioned step."

The plans have alarmed international human rights groups.

Bolkiah said "people outside of Brunei should respect us in the same way that we respect them."

About 66 percent of Brunei's 420,000 people are Muslims, and it has long had a conservative bent.