Contested temple land awarded to Cambodia

The ICJ's decision, which is final, is an interpretation of a 1962 ruling which awarded the ownership of Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday ruled that the area around the ancient Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, two years after bloody clashes broke out between Cambodia and Thailand over the territory.

The court, when announcing the verdict, said Thailand had to withdraw its security forces from the area, but also stressed that both countries "have a duty to settle any dispute between them by peaceful means". It also reminded both to protect the World Heritage site.

The decision, which is final and cannot be subject to appeal, is an interpretation of a 1962 ruling which awarded the ownership of the temple to Cambodia.

The promontory identified yesterday to be under Cambodia's jurisdiction, however, forms a fraction of the 4.6 sq km stretch of land around the temple contested by the two countries.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in a televised statement after the announcement, stressed that the area awarded to Cambodia was very small and that both countries would work together to comply with the ruling.

She said she would also order the security forces to ensure peace and stability at the border.

"It's good enough," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who was at the hearing in The Hague, told reporters.

"This is a very long decision by the court that we need to study very carefully," he was quoted as saying by the French news agency, Agence France-Presse. "The two countries need to negotiate between themselves," he added.

The court did not make any ruling on the rest of the contested land.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan told The Straits Times that if the disputed area remained as status quo, the bilateral relationship could be improved as both countries would likely try to develop the area together.

However, anti-government groups were likely to "fan nationalism again and politicise the issue", she said, by attacking Ms Yingluck for betraying her country if she heeds the ICJ's ruling.

The Khmer temple complex, which dates back to the 9th century, sits at the top of a plateau at the border between Thailand and Cambodia. It was occupied by Thailand in 1954 after the French colonial authorities withdrew from Cambodia. The Cambodians brought the issue before the ICJ, which ruled in their favour, but left questions over ownership of the surrounding land.

After clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops between 2009 and 2011, Cambodia took the case to the ICJ again and requested that the court clarify its original ruling and determine ownership of the land around the vicinity of the temple. Hearings on this issue were held in April this year.

The Preah Vihear issue has been a rallying point for Thai nationalists and groups opposing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - Ms Yingluck's brother who is now in exile - that accuse the ruling Puea Thai party of selling out to the Cambodians. Thaksin, who was ousted in the 2006 coup and lives abroad to evade a jail sentence for corruption, is a good friend of Cambodian Premier Hun Sen's.

Relations between the two countries have warmed since Puea Thai came into power in 2011.

tanhy@sph.com.sg

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