News / Asia

Cambodia Seeks Court Ruling on Dispute With Thailand

An injured Thai soldier on a stretcher is helped to board a helicopter to be transferred to a hospital following the clashes between Thailand and Cambodia in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, April 28, 2011
An injured Thai soldier on a stretcher is helped to board a helicopter to be transferred to a hospital following the clashes between Thailand and Cambodia in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, April 28, 2011
Ron Corben

Cambodia has called on the International Court of Justice to review a 1962 judgment over a disputed ancient Hindu temple along the Thai border. The move follows renewed fighting that broke an hours-old ceasefire.

In a submission to the International Court of Justice, Cambodia calls for an interpretation a 50-year-old ruling that gave the 11th century temple to Cambodia.

Cambodian Foreign Affairs Spokesman Koy Kuong announced the move Friday in Phnom Penh.

The spokesman says his government wants the court to interpret the 1962 decision that gave Preah Vihear to Cambodia. He says that ruling was based on a map that is recognized by the international community.

The border around the temple, known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Phra Viharn in Thailand, has remained in dispute despite the 1962 decision. The temple is most easily accessed from Thai territory, and Bangkok claims ownership of the land near it.

Cambodia announced its appeal to the international court hours after new fighting along the border broke a ceasefire agreement. Both sides blamed the other for the clash

The ceasefire agreement reached on Thursday aimed to end a week of fighting, which has claimed at least 16 lives and forced tens of thousands of villagers from both countries to flee homes near the border.

The Thai government thinks the latest clashes are linked to Cambodia’s move to petition the International Court of Justice. Thani Thongphakdi is a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman:

"From our perspective I think this puts all the jigsaw pieces in place," said Thani Thongphakdi. "What the Cambodian side has been doing since it had been initiating these conflicts along the border. It was laying the path, laying the ground work for their decision to submit a request to the International Court of Justice."

The countries have fought sporadically along the border since 2008, when Cambodia obtained World Heritage status for the Hindu temple. That angered many Thai nationalists, and both sides increased military patrols along the border.

It is not clear what started the latest fighting. Regional political analysts, however, say that domestic politics on both sides makes it hard to resolve the dispute.  In Cambodia, they say, it appears Prime Minister Hun Sen benefits by appearing tough against a larger neighbor, and it is possible he hopes that elections expected in Thailand later this year will allow his friend, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to power.

On the other side, the analysts say, Thailand’s powerful military commanders may hope a crisis along the border will provide an excuse to call off elections, and keep a new government from shaking up the senior ranks.

The border issue is set to be raised at a summit of leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations  to be held in Jakarta next month. Thailand says the summit may lead to talks between Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Cambodia’s Hun Sen "if conditions are right".

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