Villagers Around Preah Vihear Hunker Down for ICJ Ruling

Villagers on the Thai side of the disputed border land surrounding the Preah Vihear temple have begun building underground bunkers in preparation for the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) verdict over the ownership of the temple on Monday, according to a Thai newspaper report.

The villagers in Surin province’s Phanom Dong Rok district say they are building the bunkers to protect against any clashes that could break out between Thai and Cambodian forces when the verdict is announced, The Bangkok Post reported Thursday.

“Surin and Sisaket [provinces] are dotted with Angkor-era temples and whenever border skirmishes take place, the temples and nearby communities are always affected,” the article reads.

A temple nearby the villagers’ homes was damaged and shells were fired at a school in the district during skirmishes that broke out two years ago, the newspaper said.

In a speech broadcast on TVK last night, Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to military on both sides of the border to keep calm and maintain neighborly relations.

“Even though the ICJ’s verdict is on November 11, 2013, it does not matter what the result is,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “Both countries have to respect this decision and the efforts to keep peace and stability along the border.”

Colonel Meas Yoeun, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) deputy commander for Preah Vihear province, said that while the border situation around Preah Vihear remained calm, some on the Cambodian side had also begun constructing bunkers.

“Our people living along the border have also built bunkers because we cannot know what is going on after the ICJ’s delivery of the ruling next week,” Col. Yoeun said.

“It is our soldiers’ families paying attention [to the situation], especially for their children,” he said.

Col. Yoeun added, however, that due to lack of building materials, RCAF families could not construct bunkers of the same quality as the Thais.

A taxi driver in Preah Vihear, who gave his name only as Chhay, said that residents in the area were growing increasingly concerned about the potential for clashes as Monday’s ruling neared but were not overly worried about the potential for civilian casualties.

The ICJ will on Monday hand down a verdict interpreting wheth­er its 1962 ruling awarding the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia also gave Cambodia ownership of land around it.

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