THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – The U.N.’s top court ruled Monday that the area around a flash point ancient temple on the Thai border belongs to Cambodia and that any Thai security forces there should leave.
The International Court of Justice 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 station 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 Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who was at the hearing in The Hague, told reporters.
Last year the world court ruled that both countries should withdraw forces from around the ancient Khmer temple, which is perched on a cliff top 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 2012, replacing them with police and security guards.
Ahead of the ruling by the Netherlands-based world 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 world 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 4.6-sq.-km piece of land.
Leaders of the two countries appealed for calm before the ruling by 17 international judges.
The court decision is binding and cannot be appealed.
The mood on both sides of the Preah Vihear temple was tense ahead of the verdict, with tourists still allowed to visit the ancient structure via Cambodian territory. But journalists were denied access.
The Cambodian army meanwhile denied local media reports that it had sent military reinforcements to the area.
On her Facebook page Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra vowed Sunday to “consult” with Cambodia after the decision to avoid any conflict, adding her government would make a statement following the verdict.
The ruling, which was broadcast live on Thai television, 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 Thaksin is close to Cambodia’s strongman premier Hun Sen.
Cambodia has allowed Thaksin — who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for corruption — to hold a number of rallies for his “Red Shirt” supporters on its soil.
There are fears a negative verdict for Thailand will increase anger among hard-line nationalists.
In a television appeal last week Hun Sen urged his armed forces to “remain calm and show restraint,” adding he had agreed with his Thai counterpart to abide by the world court’s decision.
The roots of the dispute lie in maps drawn up in 1907 during French colonial rule.