The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has begun a week of hearings on a territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over land around 11th-century temple Preah Vihear temple which both sides claim.
Cambodia has asked the United Nations’ highest court to clarify a 50-year-old ruling on ownership of the 1,000-year-old temple near its border with Thailand, warning that maintaining the status quo would be a threat to peace between the Southeast Asian neighbours.
The ICJ ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple stands in Cambodia, but Thailand, which calls it Khao Phra Viharn, says it did not draw definitive boundaries around the World Heritage-listed site, and the Southeast Asian neighbours’ armies have repeatedly clashed there in recent years.
In 2011, the court in The Hague created a demilitarised zone around the temple after fighting left about 20 dead and displaced thousands of people from near the temple, but Hor Namhong, Cambodian foreign minister, said talks about withdrawing troops have gone nowhere.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) put the temple, perched on a rocky plateau overlooking Thailand and Cambodia, on its World Heritage list in 2008.
UNESCO called the temple “an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment”.
Four hearings are due to take place this week. Judges will hear the Thai side on Wednesday.
We expect the court to interpret the 1962 ruling which said that the temple of Preah Vihear is on Cambodian soil
On Monday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that the dispute had “darkened relations” between the two countries.
Without an interpretation of a 1962 ICJ ruling, “relations with Thailand cannot be friendly and co-operative in the future,” Hor Namhong said.
Ahead of Cambodia’s opening statement on Monday, Hor Namhong told reporters his country “felt threatened” by troop incursions from Thailand.
“We expect the court to interpret the 1962 ruling which said that the temple of Preah Vihear is on Cambodian soil,” he said, speaking in French.
“According to the ruling the surrounding area also belongs to Cambodia,” Hor Namhong said.
Thailand, which will make its case on Wednesday, said that it would “fight the case transparently and with [its] best effort”.
Al Jazeera’s Veronica Pedrosa, reporting at the border of Thailand and Cambodia said security was tight at the disputed area.
“Authorities are concerned that politicians are going to use the dispute to try to out-do each other’s nationalist fervour, while the World Court holds hearings in Europe this week,” Pedrosa said.
Deadly fighting erupted in the area in 2011, killing 18 people as Thai and Cambodian soldiers fought with rockets,
guns and tanks.