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International Court Rules on Cambodia-Thailand Border Dispute

A Cambodian soldier talks on a phone from his position at the Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, February 9, 2011. The UN's highest court has ordered both Cambodia and Thailand to immediately withdraw all troops from a newly

The International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday court has ordered Thailand and Cambodia to immediately withdraw soldiers from a disputed border area where they clashed earlier this year.

The court also ruled that both sides allow in observers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to help prevent new hostilities and declared the disputed border area between Thailand and Cambodia a temporary demilitarized zone.

The court also warned that until it has given a final ruling, it must remain informed of all matters regarding the case.

The Thai and Cambodia foreign ministers attended the court session and both indicated they were satisfied with the decision and would abide by it.

The international court said the measures were needed urgently to prevent what it called “irreparable damages” while it decides which country owns the territory.

Judge Hisashi Owada, president of court, read out the decision.

"By 11 votes to 5, both parties shall immediately withdraw their military personnel currently present in the provisional demilitarized zone as defined in paragraph 62 of the present order. And refrain from any military presence within that zone and from any armed activity directed at that zone."

The court also rejected Thailand’s request that it dismiss Cambodia's request for an interpretation of the legal rights to the territory surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu-Khmer temple.

The temple is called Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Phra Viharn in Thailand.

In 1962, the court ruled the temple belonged to Cambodia, but Phnom Penh and Bangkok dispute ownership of land around the temple.

The dispute flared up in 2008, when the United Nations declared the temple a World Heritage site, sparking nationalist reactions on both sides. Earlier this year, Cambodia asked the court to give an interpretation of the original ruling.

Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says the ruling could be interpreted as a victory for Thai nationalists whose campaigns opposing Cambodian claims to the territory helped revive tensions.

"One can understand why the Cambodians might feel a bit bitter about this ruling, however, because the tensions over the temple emanate from Thai domestic politics," Montesano says. "They are really the opening of an old sore on the part of the Thais for domestic political purposes. And the Cambodians now find themselves being treated no differently from the Thais by the International Court of Justice."

At least 20 soldiers and civilians have been killed since in sporadic fighting between the two militaries.

The judges also ordered Thailand not to obstruct Cambodia’s free access to the temple. Although Cambodia manages the temple, Thailand controls the main road leading to it.