In a landmark ruling, the U.N.’s top court on Monday said Cambodia has sovereignty over an area immediately surrounding an ancient temple along the border with Thailand and ordered Bangkok, which claims the territory, to withdraw any security forces stationed there.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague however rejected Cambodia’s claims over a hill near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in the Dangrek Mountains.
The decision aimed at ending the border dispute dating back decades was welcomed by Cambodia as “historic” while Thailand said it was “satisfactory” to both sides.
The court noted that a 1962 ruling by its judges gave Cambodia the promontory on which the temple sits, saying Thailand has to withdraw its military and police forces from the area.
But it did not specify a border line around the World Heritage Site temple, rejecting Cambodia’s claim to sovereignty over the nearby Phnum Trap hill.
Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in The Hague that the verdict was “good enough,” while Thai officials said they will hold talks with Cambodia on the issue.
Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a statement hailing the ruling as an “important step forward,” saying it had a “historic significance … in the peaceful resolution of the dispute over Preah Vihear and its surrounding area.”
“We are committed to not provoking any actions that might lead to tension between the two countries and will prevent any individuals from provoking tension between the two countries,” he said.
“We will pay attention to maintain and increase good relationships between the two countries.”
RFA’s Khmer Service correspondent at the site reported no tensions between security forces along the border.
Residents near the disputed area had evacuated in the run-up to the ruling.
Three years after the temple was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008, clashes around the historic site had killed 28 people and displaced thousands, prompting Cambodia to request a clarification of the ICJ’s earlier ruling.
Last year the ICJ, which had in 1962 awarded possession of the temple to Cambodia without addressing jurisdiction of the surrounding land, ruled both sides should withdraw their troops from the vicinity.
On Monday, ICJ Judge Peter Tomka said in reading the court’s verdict that under the 1962 decision, “Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear” and Thailand was “under an obligation” to withdraw security forces from the area.
“Cambodia and Thailand must cooperate between themselves, and with the world community, in the protection of the site as a world heritage,” he said.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a television address following the ruling that she would hold talks with Cambodia, pledging to protect her kingdom's interests.
Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said in The Hague that “the decision is satisfactory to both sides” and that they will hold talks in a panel planned to jointly develop the area.
There were no celebrations on the streets of Phnom Penh after the verdict, which came the day after Cambodia held nationwide celebrations for Independence Day.
Residents in Phnom Penh said the decision would help bring peace to the two countries.
“We won’t have armed conflict, the people from both sides will live in peace,” Phnom Penh resident Yoeun Hon said.
Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior reinforced police forces outside the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.
Thai schools close to the border were closed, and in Bangkok, a demonstrator set fire to a Cambodian flag on a Bangkok street, Agence France Presse reported.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.