Cambodia launches legal fight in UN's highest court

30th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Cambodia on Monday launched a bitter legal battle before the UN's highest court, asking it to order an immediate Thai troop withdrawal around an ancient temple that saw clashes this year.

"We will ask the court to swiftly provide the provisional measures to protect the peace and avoid an escalation of the armed conflict in the area," said Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, who represents Cambodia.

"Cambodia is asking the court to implement measures to prevent further destruction of the temple and the area around it," he told a 16-panel of judges before the International Court of Justice based in The Hague.

"Thailand is under obligation to withdraw any troops in the area around the temple," the Cambodian representative said.

In February the UN appealed for a permanent ceasefire after 10 people were killed in fighting near Preah Vihear temple.

However fresh clashes broke out in April further west, leaving 18 dead and prompting 85,000 civilians to flee.

Cambodia said though there had been clashes in the past, Thai aggression substantially increased after July 2008, when the UN's cultural body UNESCO listed the temple as a World Heritage site.

"It's time for the voice of international law to speak loudly," Hor Namhong said, calling the ICJ "the guarantor".

"That is why we brought this dispute here -- it has been going on too long," he said.

The court ruled in 1962 that the 900-year-old temple itself belonged to Cambodia but both Phnom Penh and Bangkok claim ownership of the surrounding area.

Thailand said in its submission on Monday that it did not dispute the ruling on the temple itself but it did question the court's jurisdiction to rule on the 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) patch of land around Preah Vihear.

Thai representatives said the 1962 judgment only related to the temple itself, and not the area around it.

"You do not have jurisdiction over the boundary as such... your jurisdiction is limited to what was actually decided in 1962," James Crawford, Cambridge professor of International Law, told the court.

"The court in 1962 made no decision as to the limitations of the frontier," added Crawford, who appeared as an advisor to the Thai case.

Thailand also said it resented the image of a larger nation forcing itself on a smaller one.

"This portrayal of Thailand is a big bad wolf bullying the lamb of Cambodia is totally wrong," said Virachai Plasai, Thailand's ambassador to the Netherlands.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters in Bangkok that it was "unnecessary" for the court to consider Cambodia's petition.

"The request violates the previous ruling. ... We will fight based on the court's jurisdiction and facts. When Cambodia won the last case, the Thai government followed the ruling and has done so since 1962."

The 11th-century complex has been at the centre of a long legal wrangle between Thailand and Cambodia -- which took its southeastern Asian neighbour to the ICJ in 1958.

Cambodia last month asked the ICJ to explain that ruling, with the ICJ saying it would rule on a clarification later.

The ICJ has set down two days for public submissions after which judges will convene and give a ruling, said a source close to the court who asked not to be named.

Two hearings for submissions are also scheduled for Tuesday.

© 2011 AFP

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