Cambodia opens UN court legal fight with Thailand

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Cambodia on Monday launched a legal battle before the UN's highest court, asking it to order an immediate Thai troop withdrawal from an area around the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, scene of heavy clashes earlier 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 Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Nor Namhong, who represents Cambodia at the court.

"Thailand is under obligation to withdraw any troops in the area around the temple," he told a panel of 16 judges at the Hague-based International Court of Justice. He insisted that Thailand must "respect the sovereignty and territory of Cambodia."

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

The UN court ruled in 1962 the 800-year-old Khmer temple belonged to Cambodia, but both Phnom Penh and Bangkok claim ownership of the 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) surrounding area.

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

It also asked for an immediate order to force Thailand to clear troops from the patch of land surrounding the temple, built on top of a mountain range which straddles the border between the two countries.

At least 18 people have been killed and 85,000 have been temporarily displaced in weeks of clashes over the ownership of the small patch of land around the temple.

© 2011 AFP

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