Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Troops cheer ICJ decision, cast wary eye to Cambodia

About the author

Writer: Wassana Nanuam
Position: Reporter
Members of the Thai armed forces breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

They are thankful that the ICJ did not order Thailand to unilaterally withdraw its troops and allow Cambodia to keep its soldiers in the area.

The ICJ set up a "provisional demilitarised zone" around the Preah Vihear Temple and ordered Thailand and Cambodia to immediately withdraw their troops.

Yet, Thai military top brass are aware that problems loom.

It will not be easy to withdraw troops from the disputed area after soldiers have long occupied their current outposts. Distrust between the two countries' soldiers is also a major obstacle.

The ICJ's demilitarised zone is also larger than the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed areas covering Pha Mor I Dang cliff near the Preah Vihear temple, which is a major Thai military base.

The zone also covers the Preah Vihear temple, the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, and Ban Ko Mui, the latter of which is Cambodia's main military base in the area.

"What's good for us is only that the court has ordered the Cambodian military to withdraw its troops from Ban Ko Mui, which is its important military base," said an army source at the disputed area. "Even though we have to withdraw from Pha Mor I Dang, that's no problem. Our main military base is located deeper inside [Thai territory]."

Nevertheless, the ICJ ruling could put the Thai military at a disadvantage because its troops have occupied more than 80% of the disputed area, including four key strategic locations - Phu Ma Khua mount, Phalan Insee (Eagle ground), Ta Maria creek, and Phalan Hin Pad Kon (Eight Stones ground).

It is also concerned that the Cambodian military might mobilise villagers and family members of its soldiers into the disputed area for development, trade and tourism purposes because the court did not ban civilians from entering the area.

Many Thais do not want the troops to withdraw from the disputed area, which, in their opinion, belongs to Thailand.

This will pose a challenge for the new government, led by the Pheu Thai Party, which has had good relations with the Cambodian government.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party, reportedly plans to invite Gen Wichit Yathip, a former deputy army chief, to lead negotiations with the Cambodian government. He could be assigned to work with Gen Samphao Chusri, a former supreme commander, who is tipped to be the next defence minister.


Did Thailand win or lose in the International Court of Justice? Thai diplomats, military and security officials have noted both satisfactory and unsatisfactory points over the ICJ's ruling to have Thai and Cambodian troops withdrawn from the proposed provisional demilitarised zone.

Satisfactory points

- The ICJ did not use the France-made 1:200,000-scale map of Cambodia to determine the provisional demilitarised zone despite the fact Cambodia had used it for five decades to claim its ownership rights to the 4.6 sq-km disputed area.

- The ICJ did not comply with Cambodia's request that Thailand must unilaterally withdraw its troops from the provisional demilitarised zone, as it also asked Cambodia to withdraw its military personnel.

- The provisional demilitarised zone covers Preah Vihear temple, Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda and Ban Ko Mui at the back of Preah Vihear, which are being used as Cambodian military bases.

Unsatisfactory points

- The ICJ ordered Thailand not to block Cambodia's free access to the Preah Vihear temple and the provision of supplies to its non-military personnel there, which might put Thailand at a disadvantage and cause it to lose border territory and sovereignty.

- The ICJ rejected Thailand's request not to take into an account Cambodia's case asking the court to order the withdrawal of Thai troops from the 4.6 sq-km disputed zone.

- The ICJ recommended provisional demilitarised zone is 80% occupied by Thai military personnel. The area contains strategic points Cambodia wants to seize.

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