Skip to main content

Thai villagers return after verdict on disputed Preah Vihear temple

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
November 12, 2013 -- Updated 0824 GMT (1624 HKT)
A man watches the ICJ verdict on television in Sra Em, Cambodia, near the Preah Vihear temple on November 11, 2013.
A man watches the ICJ verdict on television in Sra Em, Cambodia, near the Preah Vihear temple on November 11, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Villagers near the disputed temple begin returning to their homes
  • The UN's International Court of Justice rules Cambodia has sovereignty over area
  • Thailand still retains jurisdiction over a nearby hill that formed part of the dispute
  • Tensions in the five-decade-old dispute boiled over in 2011 when five were killed in skirmishes

(CNN) -- Thai villagers close to the disputed Preah Vihear temple began returning to their homes Tuesday following a decision in the International Court of Justice -- the UN's highest court -- that awarded sovereignty over most of the land around the temple to Cambodia.

Residents displaced by simmering tensions began returning to the border region, convinced the ICJ verdict will restore peace, according to Thailand's The Nation newspaper.

A panel of judges ruled on Monday that the promontory on which the temple sits was part of Cambodia, although the court did not give Cambodia full control over all the territory saying it had no jurisdiction over a nearby hill -- known as Pheu Makhua - that formed part of the dispute.

"In consequence, Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers that were stationed there," president of the International Court of Justice Peter Tomka said in the judgement.

In a televised address, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that Thailand would hold talks with Cambodia to finally resolve the 51-year-old dispute.

''Thailand will enter negotiations with Cambodia to put an end to the issue,'' she said in a nationally televised press conference. "I would like all Thais to be confident that the government will be at its best in protecting national interests."

The permanent secretary of Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sihasak Puangketkaew told a press conference that the court had ruled on the vicinity but not on the exact boundaries between the two countries.

"How much territory we lose I don't know, but it will be a bit of land. It depends on what is negotiated with Cambodia," he said, adding that Thailand intended to keep troops in the vicinity.

The Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen called for calm ahead of the court decision this week, saying that Thailand and Cambodia intended to abide by the court's decision.

"I would appeal to the armed forces fulfilling their duties in the border area to maintain calmness, patience and avoid actions that would cause tension or eventual clashes," he said in a statement.

The 11th century Hindu temple sits atop a cliff on Cambodian soil but has its most accessible entrance on the Thai side. The two countries differ on whether some territory around the temple forms part of Thailand or Cambodia.

Thailand will enter negotiations with Cambodia to put an end to the issue
Yingluck Shinawatra

The Hague-based International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962. Thailand claims, however, that the 1.8 square mile (4.6 sq. km) area around it was never fully demarcated.

Thailand says the dispute arose from the fact that the Cambodian government used a map drawn during the French occupation of Cambodia - a map that places the temple and surrounding area in Cambodian territory.

In 2008, the United Nations approved Cambodia's application to have the temple listed as a World Heritage Site -- a place the U.N. says has outstanding universal value.

The decision re-ignited tensions, with some in Thailand fearing it will make it difficult for their country to lay claim to disputed land around the temple.

Both sides agreed to withdraw troops from the disputed area in December 2011 following border skirmishes earlier that year that left five people dead. As many as 27,000 people were displaced by the fighting.

One Thai nationalist group, the Thai Patriotic Network, has said it would reject any judgment from the ICJ, according to The Nation newspaper.

"Thai people who know the reality would not allow the government to comply with the ICJ judgement. What the government has done could be deemed as 'selling the nation' to foreigners," Chaiwat Sinsuwong, leader of Thai Patriotic Network, told The Nation.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT