A United Nations court today ordered Cambodia and Thailand to withdraw their military personnel from around a disputed temple site near their joint border and to agree not to engage in any further fighting in the immediate area.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a series of provisional measures in the dispute between the South-East Asian neighbours over Preah Vihear, an 11th century Hindu temple complex located on the Cambodian side of the border. The site is inscribed on the UN World Heritage List.
Cambodia and Thailand have repeatedly clashed over the area in recent years and earlier this year there were fatal skirmishes that forced thousands of people to flee. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other top UN officials have urged the two countries to engage in dialogue to resolve the dispute.
Cambodia had applied for provisional measures as part of its request to the ICJ for an interpretation clarifying the meaning or scope of a 1962 judgement that it made in the dispute.
Today the court’s 16-member panel found unanimously that the matter was urgent enough, and the potential risk of damage and renewed clashes sufficiently serious, that provisional measures were necessary. Thailand had requested that the case be removed from the ICJ’s general list, but the court rejected that.
By a vote of 11 to five, the judges then ruled that the two sides should immediately withdrew their military personnel from a provisional demilitarized zone around the temple which the tribunal has defined, and that they should refrain from having any military presence within the zone or directing any armed activity at the zone.
In a vote of 15 to one, the ICJ also stated that:
Thailand should not obstruct Cambodia’s free access to Preah Vihear, or prevent it from providing fresh supplies to its non-military personnel;
Cambodia and Thailand should continue their cooperation within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in relation to the dispute, particularly by allowing the ASEAN observers to have access to the provisional demilitarized zone;
The two countries should refrain from any actions which could aggravate or extend the dispute or make it more difficult to resolve.
The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the principal judicial organ of the UN and is based in The Hague in the Netherlands. One of its tasks is to settle legal disputes between countries.