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Observers See Role for Former King on Border Issue

Former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk are greeted by students along a Phnom Penh road during during the marking of the country's 50th Independence Day in 2003.

Former king Norodom Sihanouk could be a valuable asset in the Thai-Cambodian border dispute, a Cambodian historian says.

As monarch, Norodom Sihanouk led Cambodia’s bid to regain Preah Vihear temple from Thai occupation in 1962 through the International Court of Justice.

The court determined the temple belonged to Cambodia, but Thailand continues to dispute the ownership of land nearby, an issue that has led to a prolonged, deadly military standoff.

Michel Trane, a history professor in Cambodia, told VOA Khmer in an interview that Norodom Sihanouk is a living witness to those events and could shed light on the court’s decision and the border standoff.

“Before he is gone, we should make a request to him asking his opinion,” Trane said.

Both sides remain at odds over the disputed area, with the most violent clashes, in February, followed by a peace effort led by Asean and its president, Indonesia.

Officials are scheduled to meet in Indonesia next week to hammer out the details of a potential Indonesian monitoring mission to the border to help ensure a ceasefire.

Trane said it was regretful the former king’s knowledge has not yet been tapped in dealing with the standoff, even as Cambodia prepares a legal request from the international court on the 1962 decision.

“The most regretful thing is that his great merit was not thought of,” Trane said of th former monarch, who relinquished the throne in 2004. “I remember that His Majesty fairly said that even a hand-span of land we would not lose. And he achieved this effective goal.”

Son Soubert, an advisor to the former king whose father helped prepare the legal case for Preah Vihear in the 1960s, said Norodom Sihanouk, now 88, could advise on the current dispute.

“He has a lot of experience in diplomatic affairs, legal affairs, and all of this,” Son Soubert said. “Because indeed it’s a national issue. It is not the issue of any political party or individual. There must be unity, all together, to solve our land problem.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the former king does at times advise the government, including letters of support in the Preah Vihear issue. However, he said, the current dispute is not the same as the historical case.