Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Temple ruling eyed warily




Temple ruling eyed warily

Temple ruling eyed warily

Though the International Court of Justice is expected to rule this year on who owns the land surrounding Preah Vihear temple, the decision won’t solve the decades-old dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, and may even incite further border clashes, according to a new white paper.

A border patrol officer guards a quiet area of the Preah Vihear temple
A border patrol officer guards a quiet area of the Preah Vihear temple near the contested border with Thailand in April. SCOTT HOWES

The paper, published last week by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, assumes that there are only two likely outcomes of the current case – either the ICJ decides it has no jurisdiction in the matter, or it rules in favour of Cambodia. The former, it reasons, would simply maintain the status quo, while the latter could unify Thai nationalist factions, stirring up currents strong enough to force the two states to a showdown over the temple’s surroundings.

“The nationalists would certainly urge the government not to respect such a ruling and call on the army to send troops to protect the disputed area. If Yingluck [Shinawatra, Thailand’s prime minister] and the army leaders comply with the ICJ, they would likely be branded as cowards and for lacking patriotism,” reads the paper, written by Chulalongkorn University international relations professor Puangthong Pawakapan.

“On the other side of the border, Cambodian leaders are not expected to sit idly but would try to assert Cambodia’s sovereignty over the area should the verdict go in their favour,” the paper continues.

“Another border clash is, therefore, likely to take place and ASEAN and/or the United Nation[s] Security Council may need to assist.”

Thai Ambassador to Cambodia Touchayoot Pakdi declined to comment on the paper yesterday, and spokesmen for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers and Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached.

In 1962, the ICJ granted ownership of Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia, but did not rule on the land in its immediate vicinity. The issue came to the fore in 2008 when Thailand supported Cambodia’s bid to have the landmark inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a move that Thai nationalists labelled a forfeiture of sovereignty.

Uproar over the temple caused fighting to break out several times between 2008 and 2011, resulting at times in deaths on both sides and displacements in Cambodia.

However, Southeast Asia expert Carl Thayer said yesterday that renewed border clashes – while not beyond the realm of possibility – were unlikely, largely because the Thai nationalist domestic crises that fuelled prior clashes had largely cooled.

“I can’t rule [clashes] out, but it’s a kind of doomsday scenario,” he said, noting that current domestic political issues in Thailand would take precedence in citizens’ minds.

“There’ll be backlash, there’ll be a reaction if [the ruling] goes against Thailand, but it’ll be a short-lived thing,” he continued, noting that Thailand and Cambodia still have issues like the demarcation of their sea border to deal with. “If [the Thais] don’t accept international adjudication, then what will be the method of settling these other potential disputes?”

MOST VIEWED

  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,