Our [Thai] Foreign Ministry already indicated that we will comply with the ruling, but of course that requires that we work together
THE United Nations’ highest court yesterday ordered both Cambodia and Thailand to “immediately withdraw” all military personnel from a newly-created demilitarised zone surrounding Preah Vihear temple, in a decision welcomed by both governments.
By a vote of 11 to five, a panel of judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered both countries to remove their military personnel from the provisional area “in order to prevent irreparable damage” to the temple and people around it.
In a vindication of the Cambodian government’s appeal for third-party mediation in the ongoing dispute, the court said “both parties shall continue the co-operation which they have entered into within Asean and, in particular, allow the observers appointed by that organisation to have access to the provisional demilitarized zone”.
The court stated that due to the “unstable” situation near the temple, as well as the “persistent tensions and absence of a settlement to the conflict, there is a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice being caused to the rights claimed by Cambodia”.
The ICJ also ruled, 15 to one, that “Thailand shall not obstruct” Cambodia’s access to the temple, or the ability of Cambodia to provide supplies to its non-military personnel located there.
The decision includes a map delineating a demilitarised zone, which includes the Preah Vihear temple at its southernmost area.
Late yesterday the Cambodian government issued a statement saying that it “strongly supports” the court’s ruling.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia strongly supports the above ruling of the ICJ in The Hague, which strongly responds to what Cambodia wants: to make the Preah Vihear area peaceful with the Asean observers to observe the ceasefire and civilian activity as normal,” the statement said.
“The government hopes that Thailand accepts and complies with the ruling.”
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that Thailand would comply with the ruling, which the government believes “aims to reduce the tension”.
Following comments on the issue last night by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, he added: “He said the ruling aims to reduce the tension between Thailand and Cambodia, and he looks forward to work with Cambodia under the framework that we have to implement the rulings.”
A meeting would be held this morning at Government House in Bangkok to discuss the steps the Thai government needs to take to comply with the court’s decision, he added.
“He thinks that the legal procedures will be laid out for Thailand internally in the next few days,” Panitan said. “As a member of the United Nations, our Foreign Ministry already indicated that we will comply with the ruling, but of course that requires that we work together.”
Puangthong Pawakapan, a professor of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said yesterday that the ruling was “quite a good order, at least to maintain temporary peace to the area” and said it should give both sides time to “solve the conflict in a peaceful way”. But she warned compliance could bring strong opposition from the Thai military and the nationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human rights, hailed yesterday’s ruling, saying in a statement that “reason has at last ruled the day”. “The order creating the provisional demilitarised zone around Preah Vihear Temple will hopefully ensure an end to the bloodshed and mass displacement of civilians on either side of the border,” he said.
Cambodia lodged a complaint to the ICJ on April 28, requesting it to issue an “interpretation” of how its 1962 ruling, which granted sovereignty over Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia, affects the border.
Cambodia asked the court to rule on “provisional measures” to safeguard the Preah Vihear temple while the interpretation is pending.
In its decision yesterday, the court said it would rule on Cambodia’s request for interpretation, unanimously rejecting Thailand’s request to dismiss the case. The court said yesterday’s ruling would not prejudice its “interpretation” of the 1962 decision.
Clashes erupted in February near the 11th Century temple, and again in April near two other temples about 150 kilometres away from Preah Vihear. At least 28 people were killed, while tens of thousands were temporarily displaced.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG