United Nations court: Cambodia has sovereignty on temple land

By Mike Corder

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 11 2013 7:19 a.m. MST

Court President Peter Tomka of Slovakia, fifth from right, and judge Hisashi Owada of Japan, fourth from right, take their seats with other judges at the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 11, 2013. The United Nations' highest court was issuing its ruling Monday on a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over land surrounding a 1,000-year-old temple near the Southeast Asian neighbors' border.

Peter Dejong, Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The United Nations' highest court ruled Monday that Cambodia has sovereignty over a disputed promontory around a 1,000-year-old temple, in the latest attempt to settle a long-simmering border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.

In a unanimous decision, the International Court of Justice said that a 1962 ruling by its judges gave Cambodia sovereignty over the Preah Vihear promontory and said Thailand was therefore "under an obligation to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers that were stationed there."

Asked for his initial reaction to the ruling, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters at the court, "It's good enough."

The court granted Cambodia sovereignty over the temple in 1962 and said Thai forces were obliged to withdraw from the temple "or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory."

Cambodia went back to the court in 2011, following several clashes between its army and Thai forces to ask exactly what judges meant by "vicinity" in 1962.

The court did not draw any new maps, but said the promontory is bordered by steep slopes on most sides and to the north a border line drawn up in 1907 by a commission of French officials.

Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the verdict included "satisfactory results to both sides," adding the two neighbors will work together to implement it.

Thailand's ambassador to the Netherlands, Virachai Plasai, said Cambodia didn't get all it wanted from the court, saying judges only delimited "small areas" around the temple.

Close to the border, Cambodian national Mann Vanna, 55, said she was happy with the decision.

"This ruling I hope will end the long dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, and that the Thais will respect this verdict," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "This ruling will end the black blood that has flowed from the people of both countries. Thailand has to respect it."

Soldiers from both countries were near the temple over the weekend ahead of the announcement of the judgment at the court's headquarters in The Hague.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a statement over the weekend that Thailand and Cambodia have to work together to maintain good relations, regardless of the outcome.

But villagers close to the temple feared that the ruling could trigger new military clashes.

In Srah Kdol, a Cambodian village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the temple, several families had left ahead of the verdict and others had dug or were in the process of digging bunkers.

Prak Samouch, 45, said she had packed and was ready to leave if there was fighting.

"I'm not scared, because I'm used to it," she said, adding that she last had to leave due to fighting about three years ago.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization put the temple, perched on a rocky plateau overlooking Thailand and Cambodia, on its world heritage list in 2008.

UNESCO called the temple, "an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment."

But, ironically, the 2008 listing — intended to help protect the site — instead led to an escalation of long-simmering tensions between Cambodia and Thailand over the 1962 ownership ruling.

In their judgment Monday, judges stressed that both countries must cooperate to protect the temple.

In 2011, the court in The Hague created a demilitarized zone around the temple after fighting left about 20 dead and displaced thousands of people, but talks about withdrawing troops went nowhere.

Associated Press writers Sopheng Cheang and Justine Drennan contributed from Srah Kdol, Cambodia.

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