Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday appealed to military units and villagers situated along the country’s border with Thailand to “remain calm” ahead of a ruling next week by the United Nations’ top court on a long-running territorial dispute over an ancient temple site.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will decide on Nov. 11 whether Cambodia or Thailand should administer a 4.6-square kilometer (1.8-square mile) tract of land surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, following a hearing on the case in April.
Hun Sen’s televised statement followed reports of residents expressing concerns over possible fallout from the ruling on the area where the Cambodian and Thai militaries have held sporadic armed clashes since 2008.
Hun Sen said Thursday that he had held talks with his counterpart, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and that the two sides agreed to comply with the ICJ’s ruling in order to maintain peace.
“I, along with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the Thai defense minister, have agreed that regardless of the outcome of the ICJ decision on Nov. 11, the two countries must comply with the verdict and work to maintain peace and stability along the border,” Hun Sen said.
“I urge all armed forces that are protecting the border to remain calm and patient and avoid any activities that could provoke clashes,” he said.
Hun Sen also called on Cambodian villagers to refrain from stirring tensions near the temple site.
“I also appeal to all compatriots to remain calm … and maintain good cooperation with their neighbors in Thailand,” he said.
The prime minister added that the ICJ ruling is the “only solution” that would “completely resolve” the border dispute.
Residents on edge
Villagers on Thailand’s side of the border are fearful of a return to armed clashes ahead of the ruling, the Bangkok Post reported Thursday, and the country’s armed forces are on high alert, it quoted a senior military official as saying.
Thai villages near Preah Vihear have begun building new concrete bunkers and reinforcing old ones in the lead-up to the verdict, the report said, adding that residents are preparing “for any potential situation which could unfold on Monday.”
The paper quoted army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha as saying that the military—including the navy and the air force—is on alert and has stepped up border patrol operations.
“We are increasing measures on all fronts. We are reinforcing our forces to be ready to fully protect our sovereignty,” Gen. Prayuth said.
Cambodian residents of Oddor Meanchey province near the site said they were unprepared for any potential clashes because they were largely unaware that the ICJ ruling would be made on Monday.
“We don’t have any televisions to watch the news,” one villager told RFA’s Khmer Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We will stay at home and only leave the mountain area if clashes occur,” he said.
But the Phnom Penh Post said Thursday that many Cambodian residents in areas near Preah Vihear were “preparing for the worst.”
The newspaper quoted Muol Map, chief of Choam Ksan district’s Kantuot commune, located 27 kilometers (17 miles) from the border, as saying that villagers had been warned about the impending ICJ decision.
“I instructed every villager in my commune to restore and clean the existing bunkers in preparation for any incident,” he said.
Hearings on the Preah Vihear dispute were held in April after Phnom Penh asked for a reinterpretation of the ICJ’s 1962 ruling that awarded possession of the temple to Cambodia, but did not take into account the now-disputed land surrounding it.
Each side has accused the other of using incorrect maps to better support its claim.
The Thai legal team argued that Cambodia’s “real request” was about reinterpreting the original ruling in its own favor, rather than about any ambiguities in the original ruling.
Occasional violent confrontations have occurred between the militaries of Thailand and Cambodia since 2008, when the Preah Vihear 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.
Thailand and Cambodia pulled hundreds of soldiers out of the area in July 2012, a year after the ICJ asked the two countries to demilitarize the disputed zone and replace the soldiers with police and security guards.
While the site has since been free from bloodshed, tensions over the temple boundaries remain.
Earlier this week, soldiers from both sides of the border held a series of soccer matches and “peace lunches” to defuse tensions ahead of the ICJ ruling, the Phnom Penh Post reported.
Beginning Friday, commanders of the two forces will speak with each other by telephone every hour until the verdict is announced.
Reported by Samean Yun and Sotheacheath Chea for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.