Thailand’s Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul (L) and Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong attend ASEAN meetings in Phnom Penh in 2012. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian and Thai officials are trading barbs ahead of International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings on the disputed territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.
After being accused of throwing in the towel mere months before the April hearings at the Hague in the Netherlands, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul has vowed to look his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong straight in the eye “in order to cause him to lose his concentration”.
The quote, in The Nation newspaper, went on to say he’s prepared to sue anyone who says he is soft on pursuing the case.
Cambodian officials shot back yesterday, saying that the foreign minister was looking in the wrong direction.
“That’s funny,” Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said. “He should look in the judge’s eye to overturn the verdict.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman at the Council of Ministers, said the comments represent uncertainty, and that attitude won’t influence the court.
The proposed diplomatic staring contest seems to be in response to backlash that occurred last week after the Thai foreign minister spoke of plans to launch an awareness campaign about the case.
Tovichakchaikul said the campaign was intended to educate the public about Preah Vihear in order to lessen the negative reaction should Thailand lose.
The remarks were interpreted by critics and analysts as an admission of defeat.
A spokesman for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, disputed the characterisation, and said late last week that the awareness efforts, which include print media, television programs and seminars, have been on going since Cambodia brought the case back to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2011.
“We intend to educate the public whatever the ruling will be,” Pongsin Thepruangchai of the Thai foreign ministry’s information department said.
“The campaign is cranking up a notch, he said, “as we are moving closer to the date of the court ruling and there will be growing interest among the public on this issue.”
At issue are claims between Cambodia and Thailand to a 4.6-square-kilometre area surrounding the ruin, an 11th-century Hindu temple perched atop a cliff near the border.
The ICJ awarded Cambodia the temple in a 1962 ruling, but after fatal cross-border clashes broke out in 2008 and repeatedly in the following years, Cambodia in 2011 asked the court to clarify its decision regarding the territory surrounding the ruin.
Both countries will plead their case on April 15-19.
A decision is set to follow in October.
To contact the reporters on this story: Joe Freeman at [email protected]
Vong Sokheng at [email protected]