Cambodian troops quietly wait for ICJ decision on disputed temple
By Puy Kea | Kyodo News | 8 Nov. 2013
PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia, Nov. 8 Kyodo - Cambodian troops and police are waiting quietly for the International Court of Justice to deliver a decision in the Netherlands on Monday on the disputed ownership of land around an ancient temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.
In an interview with Kyodo News, a military commander based near the Preah Vihear Temple who spoke on condition his name not be used, said his troops are “waiting for the ICJ ruling and are not ready to get into a new fighting with Thai troops unless they move into our territory.”
“Our leaders told us to position where we are now and to abide by the ICJ’s interpretation,” he said, adding his troops “will respond” should Thai troops encroach or trespass onto Cambodian land to avoid implementation of the ICJ’s decision, whatever it may be.
Asked if he has moved his troops ahead of the ICJ ruling, he said the troops have stayed put, not been repositioned.
The area near the temple has been the site of sporadic clashes between Cambodian and Thai troops over the past several years, with both sides laying claim to the ancient temple and its environs.
Loch Tin, 49, a unit police chief posted in Cambodian territory close to the entrance gate from the Thai side to Preah Vihear said his obligation is to protect the temple from “any aggressive acts” by the Thai side.
“There is no reason for Cambodia to move into Thai territory even 1 millimeter, but we cannot accept either if Thai troops move into our land even for 1 millimeter,” said Tin, who has been in the area for 13 years.
While the military and police are on alert, all seemed relaxed and quiet when Kyodo reporters visited the area earlier this week.
Still, some bunkers, most of them are old establishments since a few years ago could be seen by visitors on the way up to the temple built on a 625-meter high cliff.
Thailand appears to have taken military precautions on its side of the disputed area as well, and there appear to be more revetments than on the Cambodian side.
Cambodian military and police have claimed that more work for bunkers have been built in Thai side in recent days and more troops have been reinforced.
The Bangkok Post has, however, quoted Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha as saying his forces have stepped up patrols and are on alert ahead of the ICJ ruling.
“We are increasing measures on all fronts. We are reinforcing our forces to be ready to fully protect our sovereignty,” the general was quoted as saying.
“Our two governments have committed to maintaining peace, security, good cooperation along the border, regardless of the upcoming ICJ decision,” he added. “The border situation is normal. The armies of the two countries are in regular contact with each other.”
Cambodian civilians living near the temple said they are not following the international court’s deliberations with any urgency even though many of them have had their lives disrupted in the past when clashes broke out in the border area.
Hut Vuthy, 53, a clothes-seller at the Sra Em market about 25 kilometers from the temple, said he only heard the court will decide on the temple conflict, but not when.
“I don’t pay attention to that because I’m more focused on my business,” said Vuthy, who has lived in the area since the first border clash with Thailand broke out in 2008.
On what Preah Vihear Temple means to him, he simply said it was ”built by our ancestors and belongs to Cambodia.” Any ruling favoring Thailand would a “shame,” he added.
Traing You, 62, a Cambodian tourist on her first visit to the 11th-century temple, said she was impressed at its architecture and spectacular location.
“It’s a sacred place and an amazing temple built on such a high mountain,” she said, adding she had walked straight to the mountain spirit “Peu Tady,” a well-known Cambodian warrior, as her last destination to pray for happiness, prosperity and peace.
Many Cambodians, including those in the military, believe the spirit at the temple is theirs and the aroma of incense seemly always in the air attests to the number of people visiting the remote site.
Yean Suntharat, chief of tourism statistics in Preah Vihear Province, said more than 100 Cambodians and a few dozen foreign tourists visit the temple most days.
But with superstition always close the mindsets of those on both sides of the border near Preah Vihear, the threat of conflict is hard to tamp down.
The Bangkok Post has reported about 30 Thai villagers living on the Thai side of the border are building new concrete bunkers on their own in addition to those built by military, and are asking spirits, a pair of 'Kuman Thong' or child ghosts around 12 centimeters tall, to protect them because they fear Thai soldiers would not be enough if there were to be a resurgence of violence after the ICJ rules.
In 1962, the ICJ ruled that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia and said Thai forces are obligated to withdraw from the temple and its vicinity.
After the temple was designated as a World Heritage site in 2008, however, Thailand laid claim to 4.6 square kilometers of land next to the temple.
Cambodian and Thai troops later engaged in several firefights near the temple before Cambodia decided to bring the case to the international court again in April 2011.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has told Cambodian armed forces along the border to “stay calm, patient and avoid any act that may lead to tension or clashes,” whichever way the court rules.