Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to comply with a July ruling by the United Nations’ highest court and withdraw troops from a disputed overlapping border region near a Hindu World Heritage site, although a pullout in a small section of the contested area remains unresolved.
In July, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the removal of Cambodian and Thai troops from a 17 square kilometer (6.6 square mile) Provisional Demilitarized Zone (PDZ) near Preah Vihear temple.
In complying with the order, both sides would begin withdrawing troops from the PDZ in as soon as two weeks after sitting down to talks at next month’s General Border Committee (GBC) meeting in Phnom Penh and ahead of the deployment of Indonesian observers to ensure a permanent ceasefire.
More than 700 Thai soldiers and up to 1,000 Cambodian soldiers are stationed in the area.
In their most recent talks, neither country finalized how many soldiers they will withdraw, but Thailand has insisted that all must move out and be replaced by a 400-strong police force from each nation.
Cambodia will continue to administer the 1,000-year-old temple, which was designated a World Heritage Site in July 2008, prompting military clashes six times along the border that left at least 28 dead and tens of thousands displaced until a U.N.-brokered ceasefire was reached in February.
But Cambodian Ministry of Defense spokesman lieutenant general Chum Socheat said Friday that Cambodian civilians and troops will not leave a temple in a disputed area of about 4.6 square kilometers (1.8 square mile) near Preah Vihear that lies outside of the PDZ.
The ministry’s statement came after media reports quoted Thai officials as saying that Cambodia would withdraw from a disputed area following the upcoming GBC meeting.
“We aren’t changing our stance of complying with the court’s order. We are simply waiting for the court to issue an interpretation of its decision,” Chum Socheat said.
In 1962, the ICJ found Preah Vihear to be part of Cambodian territory, but Phnom Penh recently asked the court for clarifications on the ruling because boundaries of the site were not clearly delineated. Bangkok has said that no further intervention is necessary from the U.N.
Cambodian political analyst Sok Touch said Thailand is “playing games” by demanding that Thai citizens be allowed to move into a portion of the Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple in the disputed area that is currently under the control of Cambodian soldiers and monks.
“Thailand wants to occupy the temple as part of an exchange during the troop withdrawal,” he said.
The Phnom Penh Post quoted Colonel Siribunsot Sirisak, director of the Thai military’s Cambodia division, on Thursday as saying that Thai troops would likely begin withdrawing from the PDZ after the GBC meeting in mid-December.
Sirisak also said Indonesian border observers would be allowed to enter the PDZ in Thailand before troops had finished withdrawing.
On Tuesday, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said his country should comply with the ICJ decision or risk having Cambodia seek compulsory measures from the United Nations Security Council.
The Thai government is now collecting the views of its parliamentarians after seeking their approval to uphold the ICJ decision.
Meanwhile, Cambodian Lieutenant-General Srey Doek, the commander of military division 3, which covers the Preah Vihear area, told the Phnom Penh Post that both governments remained committed in principle to the decision.
The talks on the replacement of troops in the PDZ is among five issues the two countries will finalize at the next soldier-to-soldier meeting of the GBC, the Bangkok Post quoted Thai Defense Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa as saying.
Other issues to be finalized during the GBC meeting include the formation of an observer team in the disputed area, border checkpoint management, coordination with UNESCO officials, and what to do with people living in the Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.