Land around Preah Vihear temple is Cambodian, not Thai, says UN court

Thai and Cambodian governments both say they are satisfied with verdict on promontory around Preah Vihear; judges cite 1962 ruling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 3:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 12:46pm

The United Nations' highest court ruled yesterday that Cambodia has sovereignty over a disputed promontory around a 1,000-year-old temple.

It's the latest attempt to settle the country's long-simmering border dispute with Thailand.

In a unanimous decision, the International Court of Justice said that a 1962 ruling by its judges gave Cambodia sovereignty over the Preah Vihear promontory.

It said that Thailand was therefore "under an obligation to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers that were stationed there".

Asked for his initial reaction to the ruling, Cambodia's deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Hor Namhong, said at the court in The Hague: "It's good enough."

The court granted Cambodia sovereignty over the temple in 1962 and said Thai forces were obliged to withdraw from the temple "or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory".

Cambodia went back to the court in 2011, following several clashes between its army and Thai forces, to ask exactly what judges meant by "vicinity" in 1962.

The court did not draw any new maps, but said the promontory was bordered by steep slopes on most sides and to the north a border line drawn up in 1907 by a commission of French officials.

Thailand's foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, said the verdict included "satisfactory results to both sides", adding that the two neighbours would work together to implement it.

Thailand's ambassador to the Netherlands, Virachai Plasai, said Cambodia did not get all it wanted from the court, saying judges only delimited "small areas" around the temple.

Close to the border, Cambodian national Mann Vanna, 55, said she was happy with the decision.

"This ruling I hope will end the long dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, and that the Thais will respect this verdict," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "This ruling will end the black blood that has flowed from the people of both countries. Thailand has to respect it."

Soldiers from both countries were near the temple over the weekend ahead of the announcement of the judgment at the court's headquarters in The Hague.

Thailand's prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, said in a statement over the weekend that Thailand and Cambodia had to work together to maintain good relations, regardless of the outcome.

But villagers close to the temple feared that the ruling could trigger new military clashes.

In Srah Kdol, a Cambodian village about 20 kilometres from the temple, several families had left ahead of the verdict and others had dug or were in the process of digging bunkers.

Prak Samouch, 45, said she had packed and was ready to leave if there was fighting.

"I'm not scared, because I'm used to it," she said, adding that she last had to leave due to fighting about three years ago.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation put the temple, perched on a rocky plateau overlooking Thailand and Cambodia, on its world heritage list in 2008.

Unesco called the temple, "an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment".

But, ironically, the 2008 listing led to an escalation of long-simmering tensions between Cambodia and Thailand over the 1962 ownership ruling. In their judgment, the judges said both sides needed to co-operate.