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Thais challenge court

Thai officials have reportedly said they will disregard any ruling from the United Nations’ International Court of Justice that requires them to withdraw troops from the contentious Thai-Cambodian border near Preah Vihear temple.

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon had said The Hague-based ICJ had “no authority” to order a withdrawal of Thai troops from the area, as Cambodia has requested.

“Thailand will respect the ICJ’s decision, but the body has no authority to order Thai troops to retreat. Thai soldiers won’t step back from our territory,” Prawit reportedly said.

Thai army deputy spokesman Veerachon Sukhondhadpatipak said yesterday that he had no knowledge of the issue, and other Thai officials could not be reached for comment.

However, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn reportedly backed up Prawit’s comments.

“The ICJ has no authority to force Thailand to withdraw troops,” Panitan told the Bangkok Post.

The comments raise the prospect that Cambodia and Thailand will reach yet another impasse in their long-running border dispute.

The countries appeared last week before the ICJ after Cambodia called on the court to reinterpret its 1962 ruling awarding Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia to also bear on the surrounding territory, which is claimed by both sides. Ahead of such a reinterpretation, which could take years, Cambodia has called on the court to order interim measures including a requirement that Thailand withdraw all troops from the area.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said last week that a ruling on such interim measures was likely to come between 40 and 45 days after the hearings.

Cambodia’s move to bring the dispute before the ICJ came following deadly fighting near the 11th-century temple in February that killed 10 people.

Andrey Poskakukhin, head of the information department at the ICJ, said last month that the UN court had no power to enforce its judgments itself.

“Usually, the state parties respect the judgments of the court. In fact they always respect, but if one party doesn’t respect it, [the other] can appeal to the UN Security Council,” he said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Cambodian officials were unperturbed by Thailand’s stance.

“If the ICJ orders the withdrawal of Thai troops from those areas and Thailand ignores it, that is an issue between the ICJ and Thailand,” he said.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh to complain about alleged violations of Cambodian airspace by Thai fighter jets near the border on three occasions over the past week. The ministry claimed these alleged flights “constitute a preparation for another offensive against Cambodian territory”.

Veerachon dismissed these allegations as “groundless”.

“If we had an aircraft that flew, it happened in Thai territory, for sure,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE

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