News / Asia

UN Court Hears Longstanding Thai-Cambodia Dispute

FILE - A Cambodian temple security guard stands at Preah Vihear temple, Cambodia, July 18, 2012.
FILE - A Cambodian temple security guard stands at Preah Vihear temple, Cambodia, July 18, 2012.
Lisa Bryant
— The United Nations' highest court has opened a week of hearings over a longstanding land dispute between Thailand and Cambodia that has soured relations between the two countries.

Cambodia was the first to make its case at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the land ownership dispute around the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.

The daylong hearings were low key and technical as Cambodia's lawyers drew on historical and legal arguments in interpreting a 50-year-old ruling on the temple by the Hague tribunal.

At issue is the status of the 900-year-old temple and its boundaries.  The temple is located on a cliff in Cambodia, with access much easier from the Thai side.  In 1962, the Hague court ruled it was indeed located in Cambodia, but Thailand argues the ruling did not establish clear-cut boundaries.

Armies from the two countries have repeatedly clashed near the temple, which is a Unesco World Heritage site.  In 2011, the court created a demilitarized zone in the area.

So important is the disagreement that Thailand is broadcasting the court hearings on national TV.  And shortly before they began, Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said a clear court ruling is important if the two countries are to maintain peaceful and friendly relations.

A verdict by the Hague tribunal is not expected for several months.  Its judgements are final and legally binding.

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