Hun Sen Warns Thais May Use Force Over Preah Vihear

Prime Minister Hun Sen warned on Friday that he feared Thailand would deploy armed forces if the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague issues a judgment in favor of Cambodia over the disputed Preah Vihear temple. 

Cambodia will send a defense lawyer to attend two public hearings set to take place in April at The Hague to clarify the ICJ’s 1962 ruling that unambiguously awarded the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia, but did not clarify ownership of land directly around the site.

Thailand lays claim to 4.6 km of land abutting the temple grounds, but this has been converted into a demilitarized zone on orders of the ICJ as a means to prevent further armed conflict between Cam­bodia and Thailand over the disputed site.

Intense fighting took place along the border in early 2011, but the area has been largely peace­ful since, and Mr. Hun Sen’s warnings of future fighting came as unexpected on Friday.

“If the International Court of Justice will issue a verdict in the future, the Thais will use armed forces, but Cambodia will not use armed forces,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a speech at the closing of the Interior Ministry’s annual meeting in Phnom Penh.

“There are tendencies and pressures to attempt to use the military as a measure to solve this problem, so please, all kinds of forces, including the national police, be careful and pay attention to observe situations frequently and look for any bad actions that disturb our sovereignty,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

Mr. Hun Sen, who has a much warmer friendship with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shin­a­watra than with her predecessor, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said he told her earlier this month that he hopes Thailand will not en­gage militarily should another verdict fall in Cambodia’s favor at The Hague.

The first hearing on Preah Vihear’s ownership was held in May 2011.

The oral arguments to be put forward by Cambodia are due on April 15 and 18. The hearings are to consider provisional measures put forward by Cambodia that include the withdrawal of Thai troops from the area, and come after the court denied a request by Thailand that the case be dismissed entirely.

“I told Yingluck Shinawatra that we can’t allow this problem to spread beyond the border, be­cause it could spread and affect other cooperations such as the economy, business and other fields,” Mr. Hun Sen said in his speech.

The prime minister also spoke about a new directive signed on Thursday that seeks to prohibit the illegal logging and selling of rosewood, and called on un­named countries to stop importing rosewood from Cambodia. Rosewood is in short supply and illegal to harvest in Cambodia, which has led to dozens of Cambodians killed by Thai border forces as they sneak into Thailand in search of the valuable wood.

“This rosewood problem needs to finish,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “To finish everyone using it in the country and stopping exports of it and countries that receive rosewood—please stop buying it,” he added.

Two of the major destinations for illegally logged rosewood from Cambodia are China and Vietnam.

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