Thai-Cambodia relations helped by Vihear verdict

Thai-Cambodia relations helped by Vihear verdict
Cambodian soldiers travel along a street about 20 km away from the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia.

BANGKOK- The decades-old border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the ancient Preah Vihear temple appears to be inching towards a solution: the International Court of Justice has ruled that at least a small chunk of the land in question belongs to Cambodia.

Cambodia claims 4.6 sq km around the Khmer temple under a 1962 world court ruling giving it an area in the temple's "vicinity".

On Monday, the court judged that a far smaller area - estimated to be less than 1 sq km - was within the temple's "vicinity" and thus belonged to Cambodia. The exact boundary lines need to be worked out between the two countries.

On the surface, it appears that the judgment raised more questions than it answered, as it leaves the status of the remaining disputed land - now a demilitarised zone - up in the air.

But analysts say such unclear boundaries bring both countries to the table and thus essentially give a lift to bilateral relations.

Thai historian Charnvit Kasetsiri says: "It's a kind of win-win situation. Thailand and Cambodia could sit down and work it out."

The wrangle over the cliffside Khmer temple, which dates back to the ninth century, has been a constant thorn in Thai-Cambodian relations even though government-to-government relations have been good since Thailand's Puea Thai party came to power in 2011.

Suspicions between Thais and Cambodians still exist given the ancient rivalry between their empires.

The temple is regarded as "a symbol of Cambodia's age old cultural heritage and high civilisation", says Mr Kimly Ngoun, an international studies lecturer in the Royal University of Phnom Penh. "It is also a symbol of Cambodia's victory over Thailand for the first time after the Angkor period."

On the Thai end, the ownership of the temple has been a rallying point for nationalists as well as activists campaigning against Thaksin Shinawatra, the country's self-exiled former prime minister whose sister is now Premier.

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