The International Court of Justice (ICJ) must clarify its 50-year-old ruling on a land dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over an ancient temple site along their shared border in order to maintain peace in the region, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Monday as the top U.N. court began a hearing on the longstanding bilateral issue.
According to the 1962 ruling by the ICJ, the 900-year-old Preah Vihear Hindu temple is administered by Cambodia, but Thailand says that boundaries surrounding the site remain unclear.
Speaking at the beginning of four-day court proceedings in The Hague, Hor Namhong said that failure by the ICJ to clearly demarcate the temple boundaries could lead to “unfortunate consequences which would prevent the two states from living in a friendly, peaceful, and cooperative environment.”
“I would like to request the court issue a verdict to end this dispute that has led to a negative relationship between Cambodia and its neighbor Thailand for the past several years,” he said.
“It is time that our two countries pursue a good relationship with a constructive spirit. This is what Cambodia wants.”
Cambodia and Thailand both lay claim to the 4.6-square-kilometer (1.8-square-mile) patch of land and have exchanged several rounds of fire since 2008, when the temple, located atop a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The latest clashes left 10 dead in February 2011 and 18 dead in April that year.
Both countries pulled hundreds of soldiers out of the area last July, a year after the ICJ asked the two countries to demilitarize the disputed zone and replace the soldiers with police and security guards pending this week’s hearing. While the site has since been free from bloodshed, tensions over the temple boundaries remain.
Phnom Penh says that the border should be pushed further into Thailand according to a French map used by the ICJ to determine that the temple belonged to Cambodia. Bangkok maintains that it has fulfilled its obligations by withdrawing its troops last year according to the border set by the 1962 ruling.
Agence France-Presse quoted Hor Namhong, who is heading a delegation comprised of border officials and legal experts, as calling the temple a “very important symbol of the peaceful relations between Thailand and Cambodia.”
But he also accused Bangkok of doing everything possible “to delay a swift decision by the court” as Cambodia had called on the ICJ for an interpretation of the 1962 ruling two years ago.
AFP also quoted the Cambodian Foreign Minister ahead of opening statements as saying that his country “felt threatened” by troop incursions from Thailand.
Thailand will present its initial argument on Wednesday, and each side will have a rebuttal with Cambodia presenting its case Thursday, and Thailand again on Friday.
Thailand’s The Nation newspaper quoted Thai Ambassador to The Hague, Virachai Plasai, as saying that Cambodia’s request for a ruling on the boundary line near the temple is beyond the scope of the ICJ’s original ruling.
“The two countries had no disagreement about the 1962 judgment over the past 50 years until recently, when Cambodia changed its position [on the area adjacent to Preah Vihear],” Virachai said.
Cambodia had initially asked the ICJ to rule on the boundary line 50 years ago but the court rejected the request, he said, adding that the time for appeals in the case is long over.
Judges will likely issue a decision on the dispute within six months.
Earlier this month, demonstrators in southern Thailand headed to a national park adjacent to Preah Vihear in a bid to set up a protest camp near the temple, but were stopped by Thai police.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.