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‘Even-Handed’ Temple Judgement Soothes Cambodian Worries

A Cambodian flag flutters near an entrance gate to Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodian-Thai- border in Preah Vihear province.
The International Court of Justice has ruled that land immediately surrounding the temple of Preah Vihear in under Cambodia’s jurisdiction, sending a wave of relief through the country over the politically sensitive temple.

The disputed land surrounding Preah Vihear temple was the site of a prolonged military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand, leading to a request by Cambodia in 2011 to have an old International Court judgement reviewed. It has served as a political flashpoint for nationalist groups on both sides of the border, and a cause of tension between the two nations for years.

The court, looking again at a 1962 decision, issued a ruling Monday that said land on the “whole promontory of Preah Vihear,” a steep escarpment that overlooks the plains of Cambodia, belongs under Cambodian sovereignty.

The court also ruled that Thai troops and other personnel must be withdrawn from the escarpment.

The court did not, however, rule on all portions of a major piece of contested land, about 4.6 square kilometers, situated west of the temple, which has also been at the center of military standoffs and violence.

Map showing location of Preah Vihear temple on Cambodia/Thailand border (VOA)
Map showing location of Preah Vihear temple on Cambodia/Thailand border (VOA)
The Bangkok Post called the ruling “even-handed,” but said the two sides will have to decide between them on the land west of the temple.

Speaking on state-run TVK, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia “will apply” the ruling.

“We trust the court’s decision,” said Puthea Hang, head of the election-monitoring group Nicfec.

Many people in the capital watched news of the decision on television.

“I am very happy, as we won the case,” said Seng Kimsong, a 62-year-old vendor in Phnom Penh. “It’s also good news to hear both premiers [of Cambodia and Thailand] pledge to adhere to the court’s verdict. However, if both leaders politicize the case, conflict will not come to an end.”