While Bangkok continues to insist that a 4.6 kilometer stretch of land near Preah Vihear temple belongs to Thailand, Cambodian officials and border experts say the issue should be put to rest.
Phnom Penh claims the stretch of land, west of the 11th-Century temple, rightfully belongs to Cambodia, according to surveys and maps made in 1904 and 1908, when the country was under French protection. Thailand maintains that its own mapping of the area puts the strip of land under its possession.
The impasse over the area has stirred nationalistic sentiment on both sides, which have sent thousands of heavily armed troops to adjacent positions, leading to several skirmishes over the past 19 months and the deaths of at least eight soldiers.
Neither side has been able to diffuse the situation, while rhetoric between prime ministers Abhisit Vijjajiva of Thailand and Hun Sen of Cambodia has escalated in recent days, culminating in Hun Sen calling Abhisit “stupid” and “crazy” on Monday.
The Thai News Agency this week quoted Abhisit saying the Thai government will not give up the contested strip of land.
The news agency also reported that Thailand would petition Unesco to review a map submitted by Cambodia in 2008, when Preah Vihear temple was award World Heritage status under Cambodian ownership.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told VOA Khmer Tuesday such claims showed a misunderstanding of the law by Thai officials.
“Unesco does not have any jurisdiction to make a judgment over land at all,” he said.
Cambodian officials have said Thailand lobbied Unesco using its own map. Thailand may petition again, officials said, because representatives of the UN body, which protects cultural heritage, have changed.
Cambodia’s map was recognized by the International Court of Justice in 1962, when it ruled that Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia, Phay Siphan said.
However, Thai spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Tuesday that the 1962 decision did not include the 4.6 kilometers of land now claimed by both sides.
Sean Pengse, a Cambodian border expert living in France, said the International Court in fact used the 1904-1908 map when deciding on Preah Vihear temple, thereby legitimizing Cambodia’s claims to the area.
The Thai authorities “can do whatever, but the decision is legitimate and uses this French map,” he told VOA Khmer.
Cambodia failed a chance to resolve the matter when it did not immediately file a complaint with the UN Security Council when Thai troops occupied a pagoda in the disputed area in July 2008, sparking the standoff.
Panitan said Tuesday both sides remained committed to solving the problem bilaterally and asked that other countries not interfere. Thailand was pleased with Hun Sen’s commitment to bilateral talks, he added.
The problem will be solved ahead of a Unesco World Heritage meeting scheduled for later this year, he said.
The committee is scheduled to meet July 25 through Aug. 3 in Brasilia, Brazil. Cambodian officials say they will submit a plan for the conservation of Preah Vihear temple at the meeting.