Thailand Asks UN Court to Dismiss Preah Vihear Case

Thailand’s ambassador to The Hague brought four days of hearings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to an end on Friday by asking that the case brought by Cambodia regarding disputed territory at Preah Vihear temple be deemed inadmissible and thrown out.

Like Cambodian Foreign Min­ister Hor Namhong on Thursday, Ambassador Virachai Plasai also warned of the consequences the court’s pending decision could have on security and stability at the contested border.

Mr. Namhong had warned the court of “unfortunate consequences” if the ICJ did not once and for all decide who owned a 4.6-square-km plot of land next to the border-hugging temple of Preah Vihear, and over which the two neighbors have fought a series of bloody battles since 2008.

Mr. Virachai in turn warned of similar consequences if the ICJ did decide to settle the dispute in court, instead of letting Thailand and Cambodia negotiate their border bilaterally.

“To grant Cambodia’s request today would be to undermine the stability and finality” that the ICJ was striving for its 1962 ruling, when the court granted ownership of Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia, Mr. Virachai said.

The case before the court stems from Cambodia’s request in 2011 that the ICJ interpret the 1962 decision. Cambodia argues that the decision granted it both the temple and the land, which is now in dispute, because both are situated inside Cambodia, according to a colonial-era French map that the ICJ relied up to make its decision.

In its original 69-page decision, the ICJ decided that Thailand had effectively accepted the boundaries of that map by never objecting to it.

Mr. Virachai, however, argued that the ICJ did not give the map any particular significance in 1962, and certainly did not set the border between the two countries.

But now, he said, “Cambodia is relying precisely on what the court did not say in its 1962 decision in order to claim more land in Thai territory.”

“The question of the boundary was outside the scope of the 1962 proceedings,” he said. “That was left to the parties to settle themselves.”

Thai counsel James Crawford pointed out that the court in its final 1962 decision never used the words boundary or frontier and argued that it deliberately chose vague ones like “territory” and “vicinity” precisely because it had not needed to determine exactly where the frontier ran.

And because the ICJ did not clearly define its terms then, he said, the court could hardly be expected to do so now.

As Mr. Crawford put it, “you can’t make bricks without straw.”

The court is expected to render a decision in the coming months.

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