Military withdraw from Preah Vihear
BANGKOK, 19 July 2012: Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to withdraw military troops from the disputed Preah Vihear temple, but access to the temple from the Thai side of the border will remain closed.
Thailand’s Defence Minister, Sukumpol Suwanatat, together with Army commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chanocha and other senior military officers presided over a ceremony, Wednesday, to signal the withdrawal of some troops and replace them with border police.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Tea Banh led a similar ceremony on the Cambodian side.
Thailand has stationed 200 police in the area, but has not made it clear how many soldiers it was prepared to withdraw.
Defence Ministry’s Chief of policy and planning, Niphat Thonglek, said: “In fact, the situation at the border has returned to normal. There is no tension and no clashes in the area, but what we have to do now is to show that we are complying with the International Court of Justice’s order.”
Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the Preah Vihear temple since the last century. The ICJ ruled in 1962 that the Hindu temple was situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia, but Thailand argued that the land surrounding the temple was in Thailand.
The border area has not been demarcated as both sides claim an overlapping area of 4.6 sq km. Many military clashes over the years have claimed dozens of lives on both sides.
The conflict has damaged the economies of provinces on both sides of the border and closed one of Northeast Thailand’s most promising tourism trails that would have linked Cambodia’s Angkor Wat in Siem Reap to Preah Vihear and heritage sites in Northeast provinces.
Until the issue is resolved billions in potential tourism revenue that the provinces could have earned is at stake.
A solution based on a shared asset is very unlikely in the foreseeable future. Cambodia asked the court to clarify the scope and meaning of the 1962 judgment.
The court is in the process of interpreting it and has issued provisional measures since 18 July, last year, for a demilitarised zone of 17.3 sq km near the temple. The court ordered both sides to refrain from military activities and prohibited Thailand from blocking access to Preah Vihear.
The ICJ asked both sides to continue cooperation with ASEAN, in particular allowing an Indonesian observer team into the court-determined zone.
Jakarta has drafted a term of reference (TOR) for the observer’s role and procedures for access into the area. Cambodia agreed with the TOR, but Thailand has sat on it since the previous government, due to internal political conflict.
Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said the Cabinet would consider the TOR and might push it forward in Parliament for a reading in accordance with Article 190 of the Constitution next month.
Over the past year, both sides submitted documents to back up their arguments. The court is expected to reach a verdict by September or October, next year, according to Niphat.
“The military has done its best to protect national sovereignty over the territory and often sends personnel to help support the Ministry of Foreign Affair at court proceedings in The Hague, the Netherlands,” he said.
Visitors can now see the temple from a vantage point at More E-Dang in Preah Vihear National Park.
More E-Dang hill covers an area of around 130 sq km in two provinces, Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket and Nam Khun and Nam Yuen district in Ubon Ratchathani.
The hill has an elevation of 500 metres and its ridge marks the border between Thailand and Cambodia making it famous as a viewpoint overlooking the Cambodian plains and the Preah Vihear temple close by.
It is about 9 km from the park gate and about 1 km from Preah Vihear temple.
For Cambodia, the temple can be approached either by Tbeng Meanchey capital city of Preah Vihear province or from Siem Reap via Anlong Veng district.
Although the highway is paved when it leaves Siem Reap, roads are damaged in the rainy season near the Dangrek escarpment.
The temple is located on the edge of the escarpment, 140 km from Angkor Wat.