11/11/2013, 00.00
CAMBODIA - THAILAND
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Preah Vihear: Phnom Penh gets sovereignty over temple area

The International Court of Justice rules Cambodia owns the land that has been the source of a long-standing dispute with Thailand, and calls on Bangkok to withdraw its troops. In the past, soldiers from the two sides have clashed with scores of dead and wounded. Thai nationalist groups reject the ruling.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague (Netherlands) ruled that that Cambodia should have sovereignty over the land around the Preah Vihear temple, which has been at the centre of a long-standing dispute with Thailand. The court, which is the United Nations' primary judicial branch, also said that Thai troops must withdraw from the disputed area, scene in the past of military clashes between the two countries with scores of dead and wounded on both sides.

In 1962, the same court ruled that the temple was Cambodian, but did not rule on the area around it. Cambodia sought a clarification of the ruling two years ago to settle the issue once and for all.

In delivering the judgement, Peter Tomka, president of the International Court of Justice, said the court had decided "that Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear [. . .] and that, 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."

On Saturday, Cambodia's military called an emergency meeting after Thai aircraft were seen flying low around disputed land near the temple. However, a Cambodian military official also said it did not expect any problems with the Thai military after Monday's verdict.

Fears remain though about possible violence in border villages, stirred up by nationalist groups. One Thai nationalist group, the Thai Patriotic Network, has said it rejected the ICJ judgement.

The border dispute between Bangkok and Phnom Penh goes back 1962, when the International Court granted Cambodia control over the ruins of the 12th century Preah Vihear Hindu temple.

Although the building complex is located in Cambodian territory, the surrounding area consists of steep jungle-covered cliffs claimed by Thailand. The temple area itself cannot be directly reached from Cambodia.

The issue came to the forefront again when Cambodia applied for UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008, which would have required Thailand to allow access from its territory.

Since then, soldiers from both sides fired at each other near the site. In April 2011, many of them were killed or injured. Eventually, the two nations agreed in December 2011 to withdraw their troops from the disputed area in an attempt to put an end to the violence.

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