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Split decision in Thai-Cambodian temple dispute

Thailand told to withdraw troops by International Court of Justice

Stephen Steele, Kantharalak

Stephen Steele, Kantharalak

Updated: November 11, 2013 03:49 PM GMT
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Split decision in Thai-Cambodian temple dispute
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The International Court of Justice awarded control of some disputed land around 1,000-year-old Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia on Monday following a long-running dispute with Thailand which led to deadly border clashes in recent years.

Delivering the judgment, Peter Tomka, president of the ICJ, said the Hague court had decided "that Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear.

"In consequence, Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers that were stationed there," Tomka said.

Although ownership of the temple was never in doubt following an ICJ ruling in Cambodia's favor in 1962, a disputed 4.6-square-kilometer area of land around the UNESCO World Heritage Site had been a source of tension. Sporadic fighting over the disputed tract in 2009 and 2011 claimed at least 28 lives.

Monday's ruling means that sovereignty over much of that area remains unresolved as the foreign ministers of both countries present in the Hague agreed to work together to demarcate the disputed area.

Thailand had closed its side of the border on Monday ahead of the announcement by the ICJ and was preventing tourists and journalists from getting within five miles of the historic grounds.

Provincial officials in Thailand's Sisaket province declined to comment on the dispute, saying instead that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was reviewing the world court's decision and would address the nation in a televised address.

The decision was broadcast live in an outdoor press conference in Sisaket.

In Thailand's Ban Phum Saron village, which was heavily damaged in the 2011 fighting, villagers said they would not leave their village should fighting between the two neighboring countries resume.

"I am not leaving my home,” said a defiant Nang Luongsay, 49, who operates a small store and restaurant.

"If they start bombing, I will go there," she said, pointing to a bunker built on the school grounds across from her home.

Her husband, Pang Luongsay, 54, works as a laborer in Nam Bua Lamphu province, about seven hours away. He returned the weekend before the court's decision to stay with his family in case trouble returned to his village.

"I came home to make sure they are safe," he told ucanews.com.

Both Thai and Cambodian officials downplayed reports of both sides amassing troops along the border.

However prior to the announcement, Thai nationalist groups said they would reject any decision rendered by the international court. A handful of protesters from the Thai Patriotic Network gathered in front of police barricades that blocked the highway leading into Preah Vihear. A larger protest of a coalition of nationalist groups gathered outside the Thai defense ministry building in Bangkok.

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