Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday cautioned his people against turning a dispute with Thailand over an ancient temple site into an “armed conflict,” saying they should remain calm and await a ruling on the issue from the United Nations’ top court later this year.
Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague heard presentations from both Southeast Asian nations about which country should administer a 4.6-square kilometer (1.8-square mile) tract of land surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.
A ruling on the disputed area, over which Thailand and Cambodia have held several armed clashes, is expected within six months.
“Even though we are fighting at the court, it doesn’t mean Cambodia and Thailand are enemies and that we must fight,” Hun Sen said Monday, speaking at a temple groundbreaking ceremony in Prey Veng province.
“Despite the argument, we shouldn’t let this issue lead to armed conflict and other conflicts.”
Hun Sen’s comments came a day after Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who represented Cambodia at the ICJ hearings last week, returned home from The Hague, where the court is based.
The hearings, which began on Monday, were held after Phnom Penh asked for a reinterpretation of the court’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.
Hor Namhong called Thailand’s argument “tricky and twisted” upon his return.
Hun Sen said that he had already spoken with his Thai counterpart, Yingluck Shinawatra, to ensure that peace is maintained between the two countries while awaiting the ICJ’s ruling. He said that the two countries would have to respect whatever decision the court hands down.
“Regardless of the verdict, we must not allow this dispute to become a big conflict along the border or otherwise,” he said.
Thailand and Cambodia 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.
But despite the ongoing land row, trade between Thailand and Cambodia increased significantly during the first quarter of 2013 and continues to grow, according to a report by Thailand’s The Nation newspaper, quoting Pornsilp Patcharintanakul, vice chairman to the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
According to data from Thailand’s Commerce Ministry, trade between the two countries grew 17 percent in the first quarter to 24.03 billion baht (U.S. $837.43 million) from a year ago.
“The people of our two countries have a good understanding of this case as it has been going on for half century. Trade continues as normal, since both governments treat the dispute as a separate issue from business and economic ties," said Pornsilp.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.