Thailand must show maturity in handling Preah Vihear
August 15, 2012 00:00 By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Time is fast running out
Maybe Parliament has forgotten it has an urgent task to consider the terms of reference (TOR) for Indonesia’s observer team in the demilitarisation process at the disputed Preah Vihear temple, in accordance with the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s injunction.
It’s important to comply with all conditions set by the ICJ as Thailand is in court with Cambodia over the interpretation of the 1962 judgement on the sovereignty of the Hindu temple.
Compliance with the court’s order during the trial is a key message to show the judges and international community that Thailand is a civilised country that lives with dignity and integrity.
Like it or not, agree or disagree, as a member of the United Nations and the international community, Thailand has an obligation to comply with the court’s injunction since the country chose the civil way to settle the chronic conflict with its neighbour, in the court. It clearly proved that the military means used by previous governments had failed to achieve any goal.
Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the Preah Vihear temple for more than half a century. The ICJ ruled in 1962 that the “temple is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia”.
The judgement was final as the right to appeal expired 10 years after the verdict. Thailand has no doubt that the Hindu temple absolutely belongs to Cambodia.
But what about its vicinity? Cambodia asked the court to interpret the 1962 ruling to define the size of the area adjacent to the temple.
Thailand said the area relinquished in 1962, where the sandstone ruin is sitting, is sufficient to be called the temple’s vicinity, but Cambodia argued that was too small.
The different interpretation became a conflict and later developed into a series of border skirmishes as Thailand moved to block Cambodia’s move to list the temple as a World Heritage site in 2008, together with the bruised nationalism policy employed by the previous government in 2009-2011.
Cambodia submitted the application for interpretation in April last year. Phnom Penh also asked provisional measures from the court to demilitarise the temple and its vicinity enabling the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to work on the heritage preservation.
In July last year, the court granted more requests, ordering both sides to pull out their troops from the court-determined demilitarised zone of 17.3 square kilometres around the temple, to refrain from military activities and to continue cooperation with Asean, in particular allowing the group to dispatch an Indonesian observer team into the court-determined zone.
Troop adjustments as called by the Thai military were made a year after the injunction. Both sides replaced their troops in the area with police and civilian security guards. No international representatives were there to judge whether the action could be deemed as troop withdrawal in accordance with the court order.
The Indonesian observers have not arrived as Thailand was not ready to welcome them due to internal legal complications and the Thai military’s reluctance.
Indeed, Jakarta submitted the terms of reference (TOR) for its observer team’s role last year but the previous government sat on it due to a disagreement with the military.
The current government will submit the TOR this month for parliamentary approval in accordance with Article 190 of the Constitution, although many legal experts say it is an unnecessary process.
The hot potato is now in Parliament’s hands. The court is scheduled to open for the next round of oral testimony in April and is expected to deliver a judgement by October next year.
Along the way to the final stage, judges at the court want to see both sides listen and comply with its orders to make sure they also respect and comply with the final verdict.