The UN’s top court ruled yesterday that the area around a flashpoint ancient temple on the Thai border belongs to Cambodia and that any Thai security forces there should leave.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) interpreted a 1962 ruling saying that “Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear,” Judge Peter Tomka said.
“In consequence, Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw from that territory Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers who were stationed there,” Tomka said.
At least 28 people have been killed in outbreaks of violence since 2011 over the ownership of the patch of border land next to the 900-year-old Preah Vihear Temple.
“It’s good enough,” Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong, who was at the hearing in The Hague, told reporters.
Last year, the court ruled that both countries should withdraw forces from around the ancient Khmer temple, which is perched on a clifftop in Cambodia, but is more easily accessed from the Thai side.
Cambodia and Thailand finally pulled hundreds of soldiers from the disputed zone in July last year, replacing them with police and security guards.
Ahead of the ruling by the Netherlands-based court, there were fears that the decision would revive nationalist tensions and spark renewed clashes.
Tens of thousands of people were displaced in the 2011 fighting, leading Cambodia to ask the court for an interpretation of an original 1962 ruling.
Thailand does not dispute Cambodia’s ownership of the temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, but both sides laid claim to an adjacent 4.6km2 piece of land.
Leaders of the two countries appealed for calm before the ruling by 17 international judges.
The court’s decision is binding and cannot be appealed.
The mood on both sides of the temple was tense ahead of the verdict, with tourists still allowed to visit the ancient structure via Cambodian territory, but journalists denied access.
The Cambodian army denied local media reports that it had sent military reinforcements to the area.
On her Facebook page, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra vowed on Sunday to “consult” with Cambodia after the decision to avoid any conflict, adding that her government would make a statement following the verdict.
The ruling, which was broadcast live on Thai TV, is fraught with danger for her government, which is already grappling with mass street demonstrations against a controversial political amnesty bill.
The country’s opposition is now likely to direct public anger toward Yingluck, whose divisive brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is close to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.