Cambodia, Thailand pledge peace as Preah Vihear verdict nears
A long-standing territorial dispute over property surrounding an 11th century temple that sits atop a mountain on the Cambodia-Thailand border will be determined when the International Court of Justice [ICJ] announces its verdict Nov. 11.
Cambodia and Thailand, whose troops were involved in several bloody clashes between 2008 and 2011 over the 4.6 square-kilometer area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, have promised to accept the ICJ ruling and maintain peaceful relations regardless of the decision.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart Surapong Tovichakchaikul released a joint statement following a meeting in Cambodia’s border town of Poipet on Oct. 28, saying their governments will not let the judgment affect recently warming ties between the two countries.
Underlining the order from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to his soldiers to maintain peace at the border, Namhong said his country is intent on maintaining friendly relations with Thailand.
Namhong said the outcome of the case will not upset Cambodians and assured his Thai counterpart that the sentiments of his countrymen were manageable.
Surapong said permanent secretary of foreign affairs, Sihasak Puangketkeow, will explain the situation to all interested parties in a bid to prevent the situation from taking a violent turn.
Thailand Army Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha favors a peaceful solution and development in the disputed area.
On Oct. 28, Prayuth renewed his call to the public to maintain calm and be patient until the ICJ pronounces its judgment.
ICJ awarded temple to Cambodia in 1962
In 1962, the ICJ, the primary judicial branch of the United Nations, granted ownership of the temple to Cambodia. However, the 4.6 square-kilometers surrounding the temple, which is perched on top of a 525-meter cliff at the watershed border line between Thailand and Cambodia, has since been under contention by both countries.
Between 2008 and 2011, border clashes broke out between soldiers of the two sides. In 2011, after once such clash, Cambodia asked the ICJ to interpret its 1962 judgment and clarify ownership of the land surrounding the temple, which has since been converted into a demilitarized zone to prevent conflict.
The Hague-based court heard arguments in April and set Nov. 11 as the date to deliver its final verdict in the decades-old conflict.
Namhong said Phnom Penh’s request for the ICJ to interpret its 1962 judgment was a necessity as the Thai government under Abhisit Vejjajiva in 2008 created issues involving ties between the two nations over the disputed property.
“In order to avoid a full-blown war, we were forced to bring this issue up at the ICJ to seek a peaceful resolution. The Cambodian people fully understand this problem and will not argue against the government’s position,” he said.
New joint panel to ensure border development
Thailand and Cambodia have announced plans to set up a new panel called the Joint Commission on Border Development involving both countries’ defense, interior and foreign ministries that will be responsible for coordinating development in the area.
Var Kimhong, the Cambodian co-chairman of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Committee, told The Cambodia Daily that the working group was the brainchild of Surapong.
Kimhong said the Thai foreign minister convinced his Cambodian counterpart, Namhong, of the benefits of the new panel.
“They spoke on the phone and both of them thought it was a good idea,” he said.
Both sides seek to prevent violence
Well aware of their highly sentimental citizens who have been known to erupt in violence over disputes involving heritage, both Cambodia and Thailand are taking every step possible to ensure the upcoming ICJ ruling does not result in an outbreak.
Hun Sen spoke to his soldiers deployed on the border over a video link on Oct. 25 urging them to maintain peace and not do anything to jeopardize peaceful relations with the neighbor.
“When the ICJ releases its judgment on Nov. 11, 2013, whether its meaning is to the advantage of Cambodia or Thailand, the two governments will maintain friendship and a cooperative stance between the two nations and armies, and will maintain peace, security and safety along the Cambodian-Thai border,” Hun Sen told the troops.
Hun Sen said his children will visit the border area soon bearing gifts for the military families living along the Cambodian-Thai border as a sign of his country’s peaceful intent.
Thailand has installed loudspeakers near the temple to communicate with Cambodian armed forces in case there is a hint of provocation from the Thai side, according to the Bangkok Post.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is also the country’s defense minister, instructed chiefs of Thailand’s armed forces to brief their subordinates about the upcoming verdict and urged them to maintain peace.
At the same time, Thai armed forces on the border have been advising nearby residents to evacuate and move inland or prepare bunkers in case of renewed violence following the judgment.
How effective are these efforts by leaders in Cambodia and Thailand to prepare for peace as the decision nears on the Preah Vihear temple? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.