Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul has announced that the International Court of Justice will postpone its final ruling on the Preah Vihear territorial dispute by some two months, chalking the delay up to a busy schedule, the Bangkok Post reported on Friday.
The delay would push the court’s verdict – previously expected by the end of this year – to sometime in February, though Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that his office had not received any notification of the delay.
“Cambodia has not received any official information from the ICJ so far,” Kuong said, declining to speculate on the impact of the delay. “We cannot comment right now. It is up to the ICJ, and the situation along the border between the two countries is normal right now.”
Though the decision has been hotly anticipated in both countries – Thailand in particular – news of the delay raised few eyebrows among analysts.
“It’s quite normal for that kind of delay in the announcement of the verdict,” political analyst Lao Mong Hay said. “Some cases need more time [for judges to] look into and deliberate.”
Either way, Mong Hay said, he was “not so sure we would get all we have expected”.
Fellow political analyst Kem Ley said yesterday that, if anything, a delay in the verdict would be a good thing, giving Cambodia more time to get over its own political difficulties and come up with a plan for dealing with the potential fallout of the ICJ’s decision.
“I want them to delay, not only until next year, but if they can make a delay until the end of 2014, it’s good, because the Cambodian political situation is not so good right now,” he said.
A recent white paper published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies warned that the ICJ’s ruling over who owns the disputed 4.6 square kilometres surrounding the World Heritage Site would do little to solve the decades-long dispute, and could even serve to inflame Thai nationalist sentiments to the point of renewing fighting in the area.
A ruling in favour of Cambodia, the paper argues, would prompt calls for the Thai government to ignore the verdict and station troops nearby, forcing the Cambodian government to respond in kind.
“Another border clash is, therefore, likely to take place and ASEAN and/or the United Nation[s] Security Council may need to assist,” the paper reads.
Intense fighting that erupted between Cambodia and Thailand in 2011 left at least 18 dead and thousands displaced.
Ley maintained that “conflict will happen whether Cambodia wins or loses”, and said that the delay would provide welcome breathing room to come up with contingency plans.
“At least Cambodia has further opportunity to think on how to accept the results,” he said. “I don’t know whether we’ll win or lose, but when the two parties are on board at the National Assembly, or the coalition government, they can sit together and think about how they [feel] about the result.”