Thailand’s legal team defended the country’s interests to the best of its ability in the dispute with Cambodia over land near Preah Vihear Temple, team leader Virachai Plasai said after the five-day legal battle at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ended in The Hague on Friday night, Bangkok time.
Virachai said the team had been meticulous and transparent in conducting its case. The self-assessment came as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra expressed satisfaction with the Thai team’s performance, as reported by Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Surapong Towichu-kchaikul. Surapong conveyed the premier’s feelings on the “Yingluck Meets the People” television programme broadcast on state-run Channel 11 yesterday.
The foreign minister said he hoped the ICJ’s ruling, expected later this year, would restore the situation to the position established in 1962. Surapong said Yingluck had spoken to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on the phone and expressed confidence that the issue would not damage bilateral ties.
Both Surapong and Virachai appeared on television yesterday via teleconference from The Hague. Surapong praised the Thai team for having prepared a solid case in arguing that the court had nothing to adjudicate, since the matter was put to rest in 1962 when the ICJ ruled that Preah Vihear Temple belonged to Cambodia. The ruling led to the withdrawal of Thai troops from the temple but made no mention of land surrounding it.
He said the Thai team spent three years preparing for the case. He also apologised to the public for the fact that not all matters relating to the case could be fully revealed before the hearings, for fear of allowing the Cambodian side to fully read Thailand’s legal game plan.
Surapong reiterated that the Yingluck administration was in no way colluding with the Cambodian government and had done its best to defend Thailand’s sovereignty. Surapong urged the opposition not to politicise the matter.
“Our country should not politicise foreign affairs. I urge those who think differently to recognise that we co-exist [with others as a member of] the world community, and that we are a modern society,” he said.
Surapong noted that both Yingluck and Hun Sen had agreed to respect the ruling of the ICJ no matter what, adding that the two countries will soon be members of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 and needed to foster good relations.
He said one possibility was for both nations to seek to jointly develop the area. “This is the best solution,” he said, adding that he had trust that the ICJ would deliver justice.
Virachai insisted sovereignty over Preah Vihear did not give rights over surrounding land to Cambodia. He also believed the court had no jurisdiction over the issue.
“We do not deny that [Thailand and Cambodia] have differing views. But [these differing views] have coexisted for over 45 years. No one filed a ‘police complaint’ [back then]. It’s difficult to take when someone files a police complaint after 45 years, however. Cambodia insists it still has the right to do so, but the world would have no stability if this is the case,” said Virachai, who was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris. Yingluck phoned to congratulate the team at 11.30pm on Friday, Thai time, saying she recognised they had done well and performed to the utmost of their ability. She said the team had clearly stated the Kingdom’s case, particularly during the last day of proceedings on Friday.
“Today, I would like to express my admiration and thanks from my heart for your commitment to the work. Everyone did well, particularly Virachai Plasai, ambassador to The Hague, who represents Thailand. You have my moral support on a job well done,” the premier was quoted as saying on the phone.
The opposition Democrat Party also commended the Thai team, but warned the government to prepare for various possible scenarios. Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakom-alyasut said the time to prepare was now, as he believed a favourable ruling for Thailand would not put the matter to rest in Cambodia’s eyes.