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War of words in The Hague

War of words in The Hague

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A soldier sits near the remnants of an exploded shell at Preah Vihear temple province in February.

As Cambodia and Thailand were expected to wrap up arguments concerning provisional measures to safeguard the Preah Vihear temple during a second hearing at the International Court of Justice yesterday, Cambodia warned of the precarious condition of the border ceasefire and called for a quick ruling from the United Nations judicial body.

“Armed clashes can happen anytime. Thailand can open fire anytime, and troops on both sides face-off in that area. The situation is calm, but it remains fragile,” Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday.

Fighting between Cambodia and Thailand broke out at the border near the temple in early February, killing at least 10. Clashes sparked again in late April near Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples along the border at Oddar Meanchey province, leaving at least 18 dead.

Cambodia filed a request to the ICJ on April 28, asking it to order Thailand to withdraw all forces from Cambodian territory near the Preah Vihear temple and ban all future military activity by Thailand in the area, based on its 1962 ruling recognising Cambodia’s sovereignty over the 11th Century temple.

That decision also stated: “Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw any military or police forces, or other guards or keepers, stationed by her at the Temple, or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory”.
Cambodia has also requested that the ICJ issue an interpretation of the 1962 ruling that would effectively mark the border near the temple.

Leading the Cambodian legal team in arguments on Monday, Hor Namhong said Thailand’s interpretation of the 1962 judgment was intended to “provide legal cover for armed incursions that violate the sovereignty of Cambodia”, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Hor Namhong sought to portray Thailand as the aggressor in border clashes and willful saboteur of ceasefire negotiations that followed. Thailand has yet to sign on to terms of reference that would allow neutral Indonesian observers to be stationed along the border, arguing that Cambodia should withdraw troops from the temple area first.

“How can the government of Cambodia withdraw its troops and its people from its own territory?” Hor Namhong said.

He said this year’s spate of fighting demonstrated that the temple remains under threat, while a ceasefire, that was “only verbal between military commanders on the spot”, remains  “precarious” until the court imposes provisional measures to protect it. Moreover, Hor Namhong said, the court’s 1962 judgment depended on the court’s recognition of an official boundary between the two countries, which the court should now make explicit.

Virachai Plasai, the Thai ambassador to the Netherlands who led Thailand’s legal arguments before the court, described Thailand as a force for peace in the region and a longstanding partner of Cambodia.
“In particular, we show the court that the picture of the big bad wolf which is attacking the little lamb that Cambodia is trying to paint is completely false,” he said.

Virachai argued that Cambodia’s claim that the 1962 judgment had determined the border was belied by a 2000 agreement signed by both countries to facilitate its demarcation.

He said Cambodia was enacting a “deliberate policy of gradual encroachment on Thai territory” because it “desperately” needed land claimed by Thailand and adjacent to the temple and in order to exploit tourism potential.

Virachai suggested that Cambodia should have consulted with Thailand before “unilaterally” nominating the temple to UNESCO for recognition as a World Heritage site, adding that Thailand still supports a “joint” listing of the temple.

Details from yesterday’s hearings were not available when The Post went to press.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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