Wednesday, 1 June 2011

ICJ hears Cambodia-Thailand border temple case

Cambodia has taken Thailand to the ICJ over recent border clashes
The initial rounds of public hearings on the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand finished at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Tuesday 31st May.

The two southeast Asian neighbours have long disputed the territory around the eleventh century Hindu Preah Vihear temple, which was awarded to Cambodia by the ICJ in 1962.

Thailand sought to have the temple jointly listed as a World Heritage Site because much of the access to the temple lies in Thai territory, but Cambodia succeeded in convincing UNESCO to give it a unilateral listing in 2008.

Period military clashes have occurred since, causing dozens of deaths, displacing thousands and even causing damage to the temple.

Cambodia submitted a request to the ICJ for interpretation of the 1962 Judgement in April. They also made an urgent request for the court to order an "immediate and unconditional withdrawal" of all Thai forces from Cambodian territory in the temple's vicinity.

Thailand said that it had accepted and complied with the 1962 Judgement and that as a result the court had no jurisdiction to judge on Cambodia's request.

Both sides blame each other for the fighting that has taken place in recent years.

Cambodia's lead delegate and foreign minister Hor Namhong claimed Thai forces had mounted "murderous armed incursions" into Cambodia's territory.

Thailand's ambassador to the Netherlands, Virachai Plasai, hit back by saying that unprovoked Cambodian attacks on Thai territory amounted to "a blatant and deliberate violation" of the rules of war.

"This portrayal of Thailand as a big bad wolf bullying the lamb of Cambodia is totally wrong," Plasai was quoted in the Washington Post as saying.

The result of the hearing on Cambodia's request for provisional measures should be known within a few weeks, but the larger case could take a number of years if the court decides it does have jurisdiction on the matter.

Thailand and Cambodia are continuing to hold talks through other channels, and held a meeting on 25th-26th May at UNESCO, which was mediated by UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova.

Thailand is trying to ensure UNESCO's World Heritage Committee (WHC) understands its position before the WHC annual meeting starts on 19th June, when it will assess a Preah Vihear management plan proposed by Cambodia.

Thailand's representation Suwit Khunkitti, who is also the Thai minister of natural resources and environment, argued that the WHC should postpone consideration of the plan until boundary negotiations are finalised.

Thailand argues that Cambodia wants to include Thai territory in its management plan.

Thailand has long argued in favour of bilateral negotiations as a way of resolving the dispute, whereas Cambodia has pushed for third party interventions. Talks mediated by Indonesia's president in May failed to achieve a lasting cease-fire.
10 people were killed in fighting near Preah Vihear in February, and new clashes broke out in April west of the the temple which left 18 dead and some 85,000 displaced.

Sources: Bangkok Post, International Court of Justice, MCOT, Washington Post

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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