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Cambodia-Thailand border dispute at UN court

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A view of the International Court of Justice in the The Hague as it waits to hear a request for interpretation of its 1962 judgement over Preah Vihear temple. AFP
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — "Murderous armed incursions" by the Thai military around a historic temple in a disputed border region form a "grave threat" to regional peace and security, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told the U.N.'s highest court Monday.

Fighting between the two nations has cost some 20 lives, wounded dozens and sent tens of thousands fleeing since 2008, when the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given U.N. World Heritage status, overriding Thailand's objections.

Bas Czerwinski, Associated Press
Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong, right, Sir Franklin Berman, member of the English Bar, center, and Jean-Marc Sorel, Professor of International Law at the University of Paris, left, are seen at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, May 30, 2011. Thailand and Cambodia will face off at the United Nations' highest court Monday, in the latest move to settle a decades-old battle for control of a disputed border region that has erupted into deadly military clashes. Cambodia is asking the court to order Thailand to withdraw troops and halt military activity around a temple at the center of the dispute between the Southeast Asian neighbors.
In a fresh attempt to settle a dispute that has simmered for decades between the Southeast Asian neighbors, Cambodia is asking the International Court of Justice for a new interpretation of its 1962 judgment that gave Cambodia control of the temple.

Hor Namhong said Thailand is basing its recent military action on an interpretation of the 1962 judgment that is "both erroneous and unacceptable."

Thailand, he said, is using its reading of the ruling "to provide legal cover for armed incursions into Cambodian territory."

A high-level Thai delegation at the court, led by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, refused to comment before entering the wood-panelled Great Hall of Justice. They were due to present their arguments to the 16-judge panel later Monday.

Monday's hearing was focused on Cambodia's request for the court to issue an emergency order to Thailand to withdraw its troops from the disputed region. The court could make a decision on the request within weeks, but will likely take years to settle the underlying border dispute.

Tensions along the border have been exacerbated in recent months in part by pressure from influential Thai nationalist groups that have protested in Bangkok, urging the government to take back disputed border territory. Hardcore nationalists insist a 1962 World Court ruling awarding the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia was unfair.

The flare-up also comes as the Thai military raises its profile in domestic politics ahead of a general election scheduled for July 3.

"Thailand does not merely challenge Cambodia's sovereignty in this region, but is imposing its own interpretation by occupying this zone by murderous armed incursions," Hor Namhong said.

According to its World Heritage listing, the temple dedicated to Shiva "is exceptional for the quality of its architecture, which is adapted to the natural environment and the religious function of the temple, as well as for the exceptional quality of its carved stone ornamentation."

Talks mediated by Indonesia's president in early May between the two countries' prime ministers failed to hammer out a lasting cease-fire.

"The two armies confront one another on a daily basis and new Thai aggression could arise at any moment," Hor Namhong told the judges. "It is time for international law to speak loudly."

By Mike Corder, Associated Press 



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