UN court reopens case on ancient temple at core of Thai-Cambodian border dispute

Temple of Preah Vihear. Photo: Jean-Jacques Dupuy

15 April 2013 – The United Nations highest court today began new hearings on a spectacularly situated 900-year-old Hindu temple that has long been a bone of contention between Cambodia and Thailand and has in recent years led to deadly clashes between the two South-East Asian neighbours.

Nearly two years ago, the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the two countries to withdraw their military personnel from around the Preah Vihear temple complex located in Cambodia, after renewed fatal skirmishes forced thousands of people to flee.

The site is inscribed on the World Heritage List which is drawn up by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In inscribing it, UNESCO called the temple “an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment” atop a 1,772-foot cliff.

The hearings stem from Cambodia’s request for the ICJ to interpret the judgment it rendered in 1962, which found that the temple was “situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” and that Thailand was under an obligation to “withdraw any military or police forces ... stationed by her at the temple, or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory.”

In its request filed in April 2011, Cambodia argues that while Thailand recognizes Cambodia’s sovereignty over the Temple itself, it does not appear to recognize the sovereignty of Cambodia over the vicinity of the temple.

In July 2011, the Court ordered both sides to withdraw their military personnel as part of provisional measures it said were urgently necessary because the potential risk of damage and renewed clashes were sufficiently serious.

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