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Thailand Should Pay for Damages Near Preah Vihear, Groups Say

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

WASHINGTON DC - Outside observers and members of Cambodia’s opposition say the country should demand reparations from Thailand over damage to the border area near Preah Vihear temple, following a ruling Monday by the International Court of Justice that land adjacent to the temple is under Cambodian sovereignty.

Members of the non-governmental Border Committee, a citizens group that demands firmer border demarcation, say military skirmishes between Cambodia and Thailand have damaged areas of the temple and elsewhere and should be repaired with money from Thailand.

“When we don’t demand reparations, Thailand will continue its disrespectful actions,” said Marith Chhang, the US coordinator for the France-based group.

Thailand should make reparations for damages to Preah Vihear temple itself, as well as for those who died in military action along the border, he said.

In a televised statement following the International Court decision, which said land on the Preah Vihear temple escarpment fell under Cambodian sovereignty, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he would focus on peace, stability and development along the border, which still includes disputed land not far from the temple. He called for calm from Cambodian citizens and security forces and said Cambodia would respect the court’s ruling.

You Sokunpanha, a Fullbright public policy researcher at the University of Michigan, said the court’s ruling was “good for both sides,” in that it did not give a major victory to either. The court ruled that more disputed areas should be settled between both countries.

In a statement, Sam Rainsy, head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, urged the government to turn its attention to the Vietnamese side of the border as well, where reports of border encroachment have angered opposition supporters.

“If we love the nation, we should not love only half of it,” he said. “We’ll take efforts to defend our sovereignty against foreign invasions and the swallowing of our nation. The government should have the same policy from the east to the west, to prevent them from swallowing and invading our land like today.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan told “Hello VOA” on Monday that the court’s ruling was “the beginning of peaceful cooperation and a good relationship that will occur in the Preah Vihear area, starting today.”

Defense Minister Tea Banh told VOA Khmer the situation on the border following the decision remains calm. He declined to comment on the decision itself, saying he did not want to cause tension on the border.