ICJ Temple Ruling Gives Cambodians Joy, Hope for Future Peace

Although the International Court of Justice (ICJ) did not make a decision on the official borderline between Cambodia and Thailand, Cambodians on Monday expressed their delight at Monday’s court decision underlining their country’s sovereignty of the Preah Vihear temple and its vicinity.

At the ruling in The Hague, the U.N. court unanimously upheld its 1962 decision awarding the disputed 11th Century temple to Cambodia, and though the result was not completely in Cambodia’s favor—as it did not demarcate the border between the two neighbors—around Phnom Penh Monday, the judgment was being seen as a triumph.

“I think it is a victory for Cambodia because territorial and border issues are very important for our small country,” said Kim Vatana, a 21-year-old business administration student at Pannasatra University, adding that he and his friends are happy the ICJ’s verdict was met with peace.

Echoing the two governments’ promises to resolve remaining issues over the disputed territory peacefully, Mr. Vatana said that young people like him were now primarily concerned with avoiding a repeat of past violence.

“Even if the court had ruled in favor of Thailand in this dispute, of course I would care greatly, but I care more for my country’s peace,” he said.

Lim Kim Orng, a 23-year-old student training to become a teacher, said that she and her friends watched the court proceedings online on their laptops during class breaks.

Though she said they were happy with the verdict, they also realized that the entire disputed area was not solved and successful negotiations would be necessary to ensure that military combat, which in 2011 led to almost 20 deaths, does not flare up again.

“I am extremely happy of course, I am a proud Cambodian and Preah Vihear is our heritage and I think all Cambodian people will be happy with The Hague court ruling—it belongs to Cambodia, not Thailand,” she said.

“But we also know that there is still land that Cambodia and Thailand must solve and I believe that it could cause conflict in the future, though this is not something I believe the Cambodian people want.”

In the past, both Thailand and Cambodia have used the dispute at Preah Vihear to rally nationalist sentiment at times of political strife at home. But both governments this time round made sure peace was kept at the border both before and after the ICJ’s decision.

At Wat Botum pagoda, Phan Sopheak, a 21-year-old monk who studies law at Preah Sihamoni Raja Buddhist University said that he and his fellow monks paid close attention to the case both before and during the court ruling.

“The land is ours, it was taken bit by bit from us as we fought against ourselves in civil war. But we knew we would win once we went to the international court, since we have the historical evidence,” he said.

Regarding the borderland that is yet to be resolved, Mr. Sopheak said it was the responsibility of the government to negotiate peacefully with Thailand.

“The younger generation is calm and more educated and we believe fighting is too great a loss for both nations to pursue—this is the next century, and it is about peace, not war.”

Thirty-five-year-old Yath Channa from Prey Veng, who was selling coconuts on Street 21, said he too had followed the verdict on the radio and was delighted with Cambodia’s apparent victory. But he was more circumspect about the borderland.

“I hope for peaceful negotiations, yes. But if negotiations fail, I would support armed conflict to restore our territory to the Cambodian people.”

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.