UN court backs Cambodia sovereignty over disputed area around 1,000-year-old temple

Ruling says Thailand 'under an obligation to withdraw from territory'

The United Nations' highest court has ruled that Cambodia has sovereignty over a disputed area around a 1,000-year-old temple, in an attempt to settle a long-simmering border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.

In a unanimous ruling, the International Court of Justice said that a 1962 ruling by its judges gave Cambodia sovereignty over the Preah Vihear promontory and says Thailand was therefore "under an obligation to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces or other guards of keepers that were stationed there."

Cambodia had asked the court to give an interpretation of its 1962 ruling that gave the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia because it failed to stop military skirmishes around the site.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said after the ruling: "It's good enough."

When the court granted Cambodia sovereignty over the temple in 1962 it said Thai forces were obliged to withdraw from the temple "or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory."

Cambodia went back to the court in 2011, following several clashes between its army and Thai forces to ask exactly what judges meant by "vicinity" in 1962.

The court did not draw any new maps, but said the promontory is bordered by steep slopes on most sides and to the north a border line drawn up in 1907 by a commission of French officials.

Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the verdict included "satisfactory results to both sides," adding the two neighbours will work together to implement it.

Thailand's ambassador to the Netherlands, Virachai Plasai, said Cambodia did not get all it wanted, saying judges only delimited "small areas" around the temple.

Close to the border, Cambodian national Mann Vanna, 55, said she was happy with the decision.

"This ruling I hope will end the long dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, and that the Thais will respect this verdict," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "This ruling will end the black blood that has flowed from the people of both countries. Thailand has to respect it."

Soldiers from both countries were near the temple over the weekend ahead of the announcement of the judgement at the court's headquarters in The Hague.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation put the temple, perched on a rocky plateau overlooking Thailand and Cambodia, on its world heritage list in 2008.

It called it "an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment."

But the listing - intended to help protect the site - instead led to an escalation of long-simmering tensions between Cambodia and Thailand over the 1962 ownership ruling.

AP

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