By Daniel Ten Kate and Anuchit Nguyen - Jul 18, 2011 1:00 PM ET
Thailand will start talks with Cambodia to withdraw troops from a disputed area surrounding an ancient temple to comply with a demilitarized zone drawn up by a United Nations court, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said.
The UN-backed International Court of Justice yesterdayordered both countries to immediately withdraw military personnel from an area surrounding Preah Vihear temple. Cambodia, granted sovereignty over the temple by the court in 1962, had asked for measures to prevent more clashes while judges interpret the previous ruling.
Battles between the neighbors near border temples have killed more than two dozen people since 2008, when a Thai court ordered a government linked to ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra to withdraw support for Cambodia’s bid to list Preah Vihear as aWorld Heritage site. His allies, set to return to power next month after winning a July 3 election, have pledged friendlier relations with Cambodia.
“It’s a good ruling that both sides have to retreat,”Pavin Chachavalpongpun, visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said by phone. “The court ruling complements the changing political situation in Thailand and should bring some stability.”
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who last month threatened to withdraw from the World Heritage Convention over the temple dispute, saw his Democrat party lose the election by more than 100 seats to a party led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Thailand’s 500-member Parliament is scheduled to meet in early August to pick a new prime minister.
‘Fair’ Decision“We will urgently initiate negotiations with Cambodia for the troop withdrawal,” Kasit, a member of Abhisit’s administration, told reporters in Bangkok via phone from The Hague, Netherlands. “The decision is fair for both parties.”
The withdrawal of troops may wait until Thailand forms a new government, Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said by phone yesterday. Both countries kept soldiers stationed near the temple immediately after the ruling, Tawatchai Samutsakorn, a Thai army commander who oversees the region, said by phone.
“Cambodia wants to see the conflict resolved through peaceful means,” government spokesman Phay Siphan said by phone yesterday from Phnom Penh, its capital, after the ruling. He declined to comment further on the decision.
The 1962 court decision refrained from demarcating 4.6 square kilometers of disputed land around the temple, which has fueled the recent fighting. Abhisit’s administration has opposed the World Heritage Committee’s consideration of Cambodia’s management plan for the temple on grounds that it infringes Thai sovereignty.
Indonesian ObserversThe court yesterday unanimously rejected Thailand’s request to dismiss the case and said it should not obstruct Cambodia’s access to the temple. The ruling also said both countries should allow observers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nationsaccess to the demilitarized zone, a proposal from bloc memberIndonesia that Thailand had previously resisted.
The court decision was “in line with the Thai government’s demand for the withdrawal of Cambodian military personnel in the conflicting area,” Kasit said. “We will urgently request Indonesian observers to observe the withdrawal.”
A Thai-Cambodian committee created to demarcate their 803-kilometer (499-mile) land border hasn’t met for two years. The countries have yet to divide 26,993 square kilometers (10,422 square miles) in the Gulf of Thailand that may contain oil and gas reserves.
Thailand’s $264 billion economy is more than 26 times the size of Cambodia’s. The Cambodian army spent $191 million in 2009, compared with $4.9 billion for the military in Thailand, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com