Prime Minister Hun Sen says he is willing to continue holding bilateral talks with Thailand over the sovereignty of border temples Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, where deadly fighting broke out last month, though he warned that Cambodia may eventually bring the matter to the International Court of Justice.
Speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for Chinese-funded renovations of National Road 41 in Kampong Speu province, Hun Sen said Cambodia was prepared to negotiate on the temples with both the current Thai government and the next, which will be formed following general elections on July 3. If these talks do not bear fruit, however, the premier said he was prepared to take the matter to the ICJ, an arm of the United Nations that deals with disputes between states.
“We cannot withdraw, and neither can Thailand, so only a verdict from the ICJ will allow us to explain to our people and them to explain to theirs,” Hun Sen said.
“This is the way of finding a solution – otherwise, we will fight each other forever.”
Clashes broke out between Thailand and Cambodia last month near Ta Moan and Ta Krabey and stretched for 11 straight days, ultimately claiming at least 18 lives. In February, similar clashes broke out near Preah Vihear temple, killing at least 10. The government also announced plans earlier this year to bring the border dispute at Preah Vihear to the ICJ, which will hold hearings on the matter on May 30 and 31.
The ICJ ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear temple lay on Cambodian territory, though it did not make a decision about a patch of land adjacent to the 11th-Century temple that both sides still contest.
Cambodia therefore requested last month that the ICJ reinterpret that judgment to include a ruling on the sovereignty of the land. The government has also asked the ICJ to order interim measures ahead of a final judgment including a requirement that Thai forces withdraw from the area.
A ruling on such interim measures could come within the next few months, an ICJ official told The Post earlier this month, though the final reinterpretation could talk years.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Thai government spokesman, declined to comment on Hun Sen’s remarks.
“I think that’s for the domestic audience,” he said yesterday.
Hun Sen also ordered Cambodian soldiers to maintain their positions and not encroach on Thai positions so as to avoid further clashes.
Meanwhile, defence ministers from the two countries met last night after a regional defence meeting hosted in Jakarta.
Panitan said that Bangkok was waiting on the outcome of yesterday’s meeting in Jakarta before it would finalise an agreement that would allow Indonesian observers to monitor a ceasefire from both sides of the border.
That plan had been agreed to after the initial clashes in February, but the deal became stalled after senior Thai military officials expressed their opposition.
Details of the talks were not available by press time. Both Ministry of Defense spokesman Chhum Socheat and Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said they did not yet know the outcome of the meeting when reached late yesterday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER