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Thailand swings back at Preah Vihear claims

Thailand’s lead lawyer in the International Court of Justice hearings over disputed territory abutting the 11th-century temple of Preah Vihear said yesterday that Cambodia was “locked in a parallel universe” when it came to arguing its case, and that it had falsified maps to bolster its claims.

Virachai Plasai, Thailand’s ambassador to The Hague, along with a series of international lawyers argued that the claims relied on a 1962 International Court of Justice decision that, while awarding the temple to Cambodia, did not expressly set the border between the two countries.

“Cambodia disregards the rest of the judgment and the totality of the archives in the original dispute and, above all, disregards its own pleadings,” Virachai said, in statements that marked Thailand’s first oral arguments on the matter.

He added that the current conflict has nothing to do with ownership of the temple, but stems from a map Cambodia presented as part of the Preah Vihear nomination to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 2007, which he says encroached on Thai land.

“This is the real course of the recent armed conflicts, all of which, all of which, have been provoked by Cambodia, all Thailand has done is exercise its right to defend itself under international law,” he said.

Preah Vihear has been the site of intermittent violent clashes between 2008 and 2011. In May 2011, Cambodia asked the ICJ to reinterpret the 1962 ruling to address the area around the temple.

But according to one of Thailand’s international lawyers who spoke after Virachai, the request operated on the assumption that the map used to award the temple was the de facto border map.

“This paradox of asking the court to assume what it has to decide taints the Cambodian request,” said Professor Donald McRae.

Paraphrasing a hit song by the rapper Eminem, he asked: “Will the real request for interpretation please stand up?”

“It should be: could you re-establish the 1962 map…as the frontier?”

The Thai advocates advanced their arguments in the morning session on the second of four days of hearings concluding on Friday. They also used the time to respond to allegations made on Monday by Cambodia in the first round of proceedings.

According to the Bangkok Post, Cambodia told the court that Thailand erected a barbed wire fence on the disputed territory in contravention of the 1962 ruling. The Thais shot back yesterday that there was no objection to the fence when then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk visited the temple shortly after the court decision.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, said yesterday that only Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had the full right to talk with the media at the moment. The ministry’s spokesman, Kuoy Kong, could not be reached for comment.

On Monday, Namhong accused Thailand of failing to comply with the court’s 2011 order to withdraw troops from a Provisional Demilitarized Zone surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, and to allow Indonesian observers to monitor a ceasefire.

“The fact is that Thailand no longer knows how to defend case and is focusing its effort to finding a way for delaying the judgment [of the ICJ].”

Cambodia presents its closing statements today, followed by Thailand’s final presentation on Friday.



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