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Along Tense Border, Residents Await International Court Verdict

A Cambodian army soldier sits at damaged Cambodia's 11th century Hindu Preah Vihear temple, file photo.

A Cambodian army soldier sits at damaged Cambodia's 11th century Hindu Preah Vihear temple, file photo.

ODDAR MEANCHEY Province - The International Court of Justice is expected to rule on disputed land surrounding Preah Vihear temple on Monday, and residents along the contentious border say they are being especially cautious.

A military standoff that lasted for years arose in 2008 between Cambodia and Thailand, who both lay claim to land near the temple. The ICJ is expected to rule on an interpretation of a 1962 decision, which handed Preah Vihear to Cambodia, but did not address adjacent land.

“Officials in our village have told us to be cautious, especially with food and clothes, and to dig bunkers to protect us from bullets,” Sok Chhoeun, a physician in Trapaing Prasat district, Oddar Meanchey province, told VOA Khmer. “Most of the villagers have dug bunkers at their homes now. We’ve only prepared food and clothes. As a businessman, I’m really concerned about my business if clashes erupt.”

Kim Tha, a mother of three in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksarn district, said villagers on the Thai side of the border have been ordered to relocate. “I have prepared food, a net, pillows and clothes for my children,” she told VOA Khmer. “I am very worried about my children and property now.”

Military personnel in this border region say they too have been put on alert.

Pen Chheng, a soldier based at a site three kilometers from Preah Vihear temple, said the situation was currently “normal,” with soldiers from both sides in “good communication.” There have been no troop mobilizations, he said, “but in the last few days, we have been ordered not to go anywhere.”

Meanwhile, Hun Sen has asked for calm, no matter the outcome at the International Court. Both he and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are committed to “maintaining peace and stability along the border,” he said in an address carried on state-run TVK Thursday.

However, the temple can spark strong nationalists sentiments on both sides of the border, and some observers remain wary of any announcement by the court.

“I’m concerned that politicians could redirect the issue to nationalist sentiment to deal with domestic crises with another conflict over Preah Vihear temple,” said Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University.

“We have to accept the ruling,” said Lao Mong Hay, an independent political analyst. “If we lose, we should accept it, in the way of mature people. We must avoid disputing with neighboring nations.”