THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Cambodia asked the United Nations’ highest court Monday to clarify a 50-year-old ruling on ownership of a 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 neighbors.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple stands in Cambodia, but Thailand says it did not draw definitive boundaries around the World Heritage-listed site and the Southeast Asian neighbors’ armies have repeatedly clashed there in recent years.
Failure to clarify the boundaries would “very probably have unfortunate consequences which would prevent the two states from living in a friendly, peaceful and cooperative environment.” Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong warned as four days of hearings opened in the court’s newly renovated Great Hall of Justice.
Thailand will make its legal arguments Wednesday and its delegation had no immediate comment Monday. Judges will likely issue their judgment within six months. Decisions by the world court are final and legally binding.
In written arguments submitted to the court, Thailand accuses Cambodia of seeking to use the 1962 judgment as a pretext for settling an ongoing border dispute between the two countries.
In 2011, the court in The Hague created a demilitarized zone around the temple after fighting left about 20 dead and displaced thousands of people from near the temple, but Namhong said talks about withdrawing troops have gone nowhere.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 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.”
But, ironically, the 2008 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.
Cambodia is now hoping a definitive clarification of the 50-year-old ruling will form a foundation for peace.
“I hope your court will be able to hand down a judgment … which will finally close this dispute which has darkened relations over the past years” between the two countries, Namhong said.