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A map illustrating the ICJ ruling hangs near Foreign Minister Hor Namhong
A map illustrating the ICJ ruling hangs near Foreign Minister Hor Namhong as he addresses the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in Preah Vihear province on Saturday. Heng Chivoan

Namhong vows temple talks

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has said he will hold bilateral talks with Thailand over last month’s ruling on the disputed Preah Vihear temple when the bloody political crisis engulfing the neighbouring country subsides.

Namhong on Saturday told about 1,000 soldiers at a military base near the Preah Vihear site that further negotiations with Thailand would take place after the current political crisis in Thailand calms down.

He added that the government would ask the Thai military to withdraw its troops from territory granted to Cambodia in the International Court of Justice’s ruling on November 11.

“I could not pass up a visit [to see the soldiers] here to inform them about the good news and offer thanks and gratitude to our soldiers,” Namhong told the troops. “Our brothers here protected [Cambodia’s] territorial sovereignty with weapons, and we in the government have protected the territorial sovereignty with pens and laws, and together we were successful until today.”

In its ruling, the ICJ unanimously declared that its 1962 judgment awarding the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia also gave the Kingdom sovereignty over the promontory upon which the temple sits.

It ruled that the promontory extends in the northwest to the foot of a neighbouring hill known as Phnom Trap, which sits about 2.5 kilometres away from the temple, according to the colonial-era Annex I map that forms the basis of Cambodia’s border claim.

Although the ruling clarified that the northern limit of the promontory was the borderline of this map, which sits some 500 metres north of the temple, it made clear the dispute only concerned the promontory and declined to rule on the boundary line between Cambodia and Thailand.

The decision left the question of sovereignty over the remainder of the 4.6-square-kilometre area forming the heart of the long-running dispute unanswered. It is unknown how many Thai forces remain north of the temple or in the valley leading to Phnom Trap.

The ICJ ruling suggests, however, that an area near the temple that was previously considered a no man’s land would now belong to Cambodia.

Namhong said that the first step in future talks would be to request any remaining Thai troops withdraw from the area granted to Cambodia. The second step, he said, would be to kick-start negotiations over the Phnom Trap hill.

Hing Bunheang, deputy commander-in-chief at the Preah Vihear temple, said it would not be easy to convince the Thai military to withdraw.

“According to our evaluation about the withdrawal of troops, it will not be easy to request the [Thai military] for the withdrawal,” he said.

Lieutenant commander Sam San said the visit had boosted morale among the troops guarding the temple site.

“It is an incentive to our soldiers and will encourage the soldiers to sacrifice for the nation,” he said.

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