Border Troops Reinforced at Preah Vihear for ICJ Ruling

A military officer on Sunday admitted that Cambodia had sent reinforcements to Preah Vihear temple ahead of a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Monday on who owns a plot of hotly contested land along the Thai-Cambodian border.

The neighbors have fought several brief but deadly clashes over the disputed 4.6-square-km area next to the temple in recent years. Each side has been accusing the other of building up its military in the area ahead of today’s announcement while denying the others’ claims.

Tourists and monks tour Preah Vihear Sunday, ahead of Monday's ruling by the International Court of Justice on whether Thailand or Cambodia owns a disputed 4.6-square-km area next to the temple. (Siv Channa)
Tourists and monks tour Preah Vihear Sunday, ahead of Monday’s ruling by the International Court of Justice on whether Thailand or Cambodia owns a disputed 4.6-square-km area next to the temple. (Siv Channa)

On Sunday, Colonel Meas Yoeun, deputy Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander for Preah Vihear province, said Cambodia had sent additional troops to the area and that Thailand was doing the same.

“Yes, we already sent troops for the ruling of the ICJ,” Col. Yoeun said.

He declined to say how many troops had been sent or exactly where they were being stationed.

As a precautionary measure to prevent further fighting ahead of today’s announcement, the ICJ in 2011 ordered both countries to withdraw their troops from a demilitarized zone it drew around the temple and disputed area. Thailand and Cambodia staged a joint withdrawal last year, but immediately replaced the soldiers with armed police.

Visitors to the cliff-top temple, which remained open to tourists Sunday, said the mood was tense.

Pich Chaynary, a 21-year-old monk from Phnom Penh who made the trip to donate food to local soldiers, said military personnel ordered him not to take pictures or use any GPS or Internet-enabled devices on the steep road that leads up to the temple from the base of the cliff. He was allowed to take pictures at the temple itself.

“It is the second time for me to visit Preah Vihear,” he said. “But this time I saw the soldiers were cautious, and [today] they will close the way and will not allow people to visit the temple.”

RCAF soldiers could not be seen around the immediate vicinity of the temple Sunday.

Soung Mech, however, a tourist from Takeo province, said the soldiers he spoke with on the approach to the temple also claimed that the temple would be closed today and that they were expecting a fight with Thailand after the ICJ announced its decision this afternoon.

“We saw the Thai army through binoculars and the Thai flag but we didn’t see Thai people,” Mr. Mech said. “[Today] it will be closed and they won’t let people climb the mountain to Preah Vihear temple because our soldiers are cautious about the ICJ ruling.”

Col. Yoeun said the temple would be closed to the public depending on the situation, but would not elaborate.

Thai media have reported that Thailand suspended public access to a park on its own side of the border from which the temple can be seen, and that Thai families in the area were preparing bunkers.

Thailand and Cambodia last exchanged deadly fire over the land in early 2011, but both governments have recently vowed to respect any decision the ICJ hands down today.

Two months after the fighting in 2011, Cambodia asked the ICJ to settle the matter once and for all by interpreting a 1962 ruling that awarded Cambodia Preah Vihear temple itself. Cambodia claims the ruling effectively gives it ownership of the disputed land beside it as well; Thailand vehemently disagrees.

The ICJ today could award the disputed land to either Cambodia or Thailand or decide that its 1962 ruling has nothing to say about the matter, a move that would effectively set the two countries back to where they were before Cambodia filed its request with the court in 2011.

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