UN court hears Thai-Cambodia dispute


A Cambodian solider looks across at the Thai border from the ancient Preah Vihear temple where a military camp has been set up February 9, 2011 in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. Thousands of refugees were moved 80 km away from the Preah Vihear temple as tensions remain high on both sides of the border. The 11th century Hindu temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been the subject of a lengthy dispute between the two countries over ownership of the 4.6-sq-km contested area.


Paula Bronstein

BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand and Cambodia have taken to The Hague to hash out their hottest dispute: ownership of a mountain topped with an 11th-century temple.

The neighboring countries convened this week at the UN International Court of Justice, which has begun hearings into the case, according to the Bangkok Post.

The disputed area is tiny — less than two square miles — and devoid of natural resources. But the turf war has stoked heavy jingoism in both countries and at times devolved into bloody combat. They tilted toward all-out war in 2011 when skirmishes between troops firing artillery and assault rifles left 20 dead and dispalced thousands.

The disagreement traces back to the early 20th century, when French colonists then in control of Cambodia ignored a natural watershed and drew up the border to keep the temple on their side. Cambodia's case is bolstered by a 1962 ruling in its favor by the same court. Although tensions have cooled, and the International Court of Justice has helped maintain peace through a demilitarized zone around the hilltop, the ruling will almost certainly rile nationalists in whichever country emerges victorious. Judges are expected make their decision by October.

More from GlobalPost: A Friday in Cambodia

Despite the temple's impassioned history, the legal hearings have so far been mellow and technical, Voice of America reported. The temple is located on a cliff in Cambodia, making access easier from the Thai side. Thailand argues that the 1962 UN ruling failed to clarify the boundaries. 

Al Jazeera's Veronica Pedrosa says that security remains tight around the disputed area. "Authorities are concerned that politicians are going to use the dispute to try to out-do each other’s nationalist fervor, while the World Court holds hearings in Europe this week," Pedrosa reported.