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Troops alert as ICJ hearing nears

Troops alert as ICJ hearing nears

5 icj preah vihear
A Cambodian soldier walks past the 11th-century Preah Vhear temple in February of 2011. Photograph: AFP

Accompanied by a team of legal experts, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong is leaving today for the International Court of Justice in The Hague to prepare for next week’s politically sensitive hearings over a slice of disputed territory on the Cambodia-Thailand frontier, a senior official said.

Namhong’s spokesman, Kuoy Kuong, told reporters at the Foreign Ministry yesterday that the government was well-prepared for the hearings, which run from April 15 to 19.

The ICJ will reinterpret a 1962 decision that granted Cambodia sovereignty over the ancient Preah Vihear temple but did not sufficiently delve into surrounding property, laying the groundwork for the conflict today.

Preah Vihear has been a source of contention for decades, and a source of deadly clashes in the past five years. Passions flared when, to the dismay of Thailand, the ruin was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008, and fighting recommenced in 2011.

Seeking a solution, Cambodian officials asked the ICJ to clarify its position on a piece of land amounting to 4.6 square kilometres to the northwest of the temple. In response, the court created a provisional demilitarised zone, and a year afterwards troops from both countries partially redeployed from the area, shifting the attention back to The Hague.

Kuong said the government was equipped with maps and documents recognised by the international community, and that the situation has “remained calm”.

But actions on both sides of the border indicate a tense environment less than a week before the hearings – and the court won’t issue a decision until October or November.

Thai authorities stopped a local protest against the ICJ’s jurisdiction over the case this week. On the other side of the border, a military official based at 5 Makara told the Post he received an order from the commander to move closer to the border on Monday evening and to be present at the base around the clock.

“We are not allowed to come down at the moment,” he said. “I don’t see any activity from the Thai side, but we have to be prepared to prevent anything which could come up expectedly.”

Another soldier based a few kilometres away from the temple said his commander had beefed up troop presence since mid-March.

“The situation at the front line is calm, but troops at our side keep alert all the time. Before, we changed guard twice, but since mid-March we guard all the time.   

Lieutenant General Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Ministry of Defence, could not be reached for comment.

Kuong dismissed the protest in Thailand as the work of a small extremist group, adding authorities had intervened, shutting the demonstration down and keeping it under control.

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