Surapong wary of temple ruling
Thailand has a larger stake to consider if it opts to defy a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the Preah Vihear Temple, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
- Published: 4/01/2013 at 06:58 PM
- Newspaper section: news
Despite the tensions in the surrounding border area, Preah Vihear temple in the first nine months of last year attracted 13,140 foreigners, up 77% from a year earlier. (EPA Photo)
Amid mounting calls by nationalist groups for the country to defy the ICJ ruling, the Foreign Ministry has cautioned the public that Thailand needs to comply with whatever decision is issued from The Hague in October.
Thailand and Cambodia are preparing their final arguments after Cambodia requested an interpretation of the original ICJ judgement of June 15, 1962 which awarded it the Preah Vihear Temple. In the 1962 ruling, the court left alone the surrounding area of 4.6 square kilometres which are claimed by both countries.
Cambodia is scheduled to present oral arguments to the ICJ judges on April 15 and 18 and Thailand on April 17 and 19. The final ruling on the interpretation is expected in October.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul rebutted certain media claims that he had vested interests with Cambodia and therefore was not suited for pursuing Thailand's case.
"My government and I want to see peace and stability and we never let down our guard," he said. "If the people would like to fight, we will certainly do so. But bear in mind that the two neighbours are situated side by side and can't be scissored apart."
Mr Surapong said previously that the ruling in October could result in a loss or a draw for Thailand, drawing criticism from nationalist groups including the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy.
The PAD on Tuesday will submit a petition to the government asking it not to accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
The minister said the ICJ would decide only on the temple, not the territory. Therefore if the ruling turned out to be status quo, it would be even for Thailand.
"But if the decision touched on the border line, we would lose," he said after chairing a meeting of a committee that is overseeing Thailand's strategy in the case. Its members include the defence minister, the army chief, attorney-general, Royal Thai Survey Department and the Council of State, among others.
"We have been arguing all along that the ICJ should not tamper with old rulings," said Mr Surapong. "But from now on, we are preparing [to promote] public understanding whichever way the ruling will be."
The minister said the public needed to understand all options and consequences if Thailand chose not to comply with the ICJ, particularly the trade and economic impact.
Surapong: "We will never let down our guard." (Reuters photo)
"But I will not announce that we will not lose since it is impossible to do so, but as I've been informed by foreign lawyers I still feel confident."
What worried him, he said, was that anti-government forces were exploiting and politicising the ICJ issue.
Virachai Palasai, the Thai ambassador to the Netherlands, said the oral arguments to be made in The Hague were complementary to the written statements that both disputing countries have already presented. The aim of the oral presentations is to highlight some key points to the judges while the written statements are more detailed and comprehensive.
The body of the Hindu temple, not the surrounding territory, was the subject of the ruling since it was about the interpretation about older judgements.
"We should not take it as losing or winning," said Mr Virachai, who reaffirmed that his legal team, comprising himself, the head of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department, three foreign lawyers and two foreign assistants, had received full support from the Yingluck Shinawatra government.
"We have been working with technical and legal forces and there has been no intervention in our work," said the diplomat who was appointed by the previous government.
Mr Virachai noted that there were four scenarios for the October ruling. The court might say it has no jurisdiction, it might decide in favour of Thailand or Cambodia, or in favour of both sides, he said.
"As members of the United Nations, both countries have to comply with whatever decision will be made," said the diplomat.
UN Article 94 has a clause concerning compliance with ICJ rulings.
If one side believes the other is not complying, he said, it could report or make a request to the UN Security Council to make the party abide by the ruling.
Mr Virachai noted that Thailand was also campaigning for a seat on the Security Council. There was no precedent for any disputing party defying an ICJ order, he added.
Sihasak Phuangketkeo, permanent secretary for foreign affairs, said Thailand should not prejudge the outcome but people should understand the defence the country has been preparing.
"We are confident and adhering strictly to this defence approach. Next month, the committee representing Thailand in the case will also meet the foreign legal consultants in Europe," he said.
Mr Sihasak noted that as long as Thailand was part of the international community, "we should respect the norms, as long as we still need foreign investment and international trade relations".
The permanent secretary concluded that the ICJ ruling was an issue concerning all Thai people, therefore compliance or non-compliance was a decision that could only be made by parties receiving public consent.
About the author
- Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
- Position: Reporter