Cambodia confident on ICJ verdict
While the Preah Vihear dispute has rekindled nationalist and patriotic sentiments in Thailand, the week-long hearing at The Hague was outwardly met with relative calm across the border.
- Published: 28/04/2013 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
THEY SHALL NOT PASS: Cambodian soldiers stand guard at Preah Vihear temple in July, 2008 at the height of the conflict with Thailand. PHOTOS: AFP AND BKP ARCHIVE
Coverage in the Cambodian press has been limited after the week of legal argument into Cambodia's request for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to reinterpret the 1962 ruling. The ICJ is expected to deliver its ruling in October.
CHANGED SIDES: The ‘Red Houses’ on the Thai side of the border built by Ta Mok.
The main exception was reporting of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's call for calm from both sides on Monday, when he addressed several hundred villagers at a pagoda in Prey Veng province to explain Phnom Penh's position.
''I contacted Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and said it doesn't matter what the court's decision is, Cambodia and Thailand will not become enemies because Cambodia and Thailand are like tongue and teeth,'' Hun Sen said, adding he was confident Cambodia would win. ''They cannot be separated from each other.''
One organisation that has been keeping a close watch on local sentiment is the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which has a nationwide network covering 5,000 villages. The head of the centre, Youk Chhang, said the centre had spoken to about 100 people a day, many of whom had gathered for the Khmer New Year, and noted their opinions about the ICJ hearing. All the interviews - whether in the field, by phone or by email - were transcribed and the names and addresses of the interviewees noted.
Despite the muted media response in the country, he said Preah Vihear was in every Cambodian's heart and they all took a personal interest in the issue.
- Background: 1962 ruling 'ambiguous'
''Cambodians have recently been taking a more civilised position in regard to the court case and this, I believe, has been influenced by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,'' he said.
''Even though they know the issues well, they want to respect the legal process and leave it up to the judges to make a final decision.''
The majority of respondents from ethnic groups in Preah Vihear province had the simple belief that Thailand was involved in an audacious land grab and was using its political and military might to not only invade Cambodia, but also influence international opinion.
The area surrounding the temple is home to several indigenous groups, including the Kraol people.
''I became familiar with this issue recently through the media,'' said Saray Poeun, an ethnic Kraol living in Kratie province.
''I'm unhappy to hear that Thailand has always held on to the idea of invading our country. As a Kraol, the temple and land belong to the Kraol people, the Khmer and other ethnic groups in Cambodia. I appeal to the ICJ to find justice for us.''
Other residents of Preah Vihear province complained of the impact the dispute has had on their livelihoods. Saom Pheareak said it was impossible that ''Khmer kings built a temple on land that did not belong to Cambodia. Thailand used military power to seize that land. This act was detrimental to the lives of people along the border.''
A dozen law students and graduates were interviewed about the ICJ hearing, and few found any merit in Thailand's legal argument, describing it as ''lies'' and ''weak''. They all said they expected the ICJ to find in favour of Cambodia, but were unsure of Thailand's willingness to accept the ruling.
''The interpretation could lead to the end of the long territorial conflict between Thailand and Cambodia,'' said 20-year-old law graduate Sok Vanseka.
''But it also depends on the situation in Thailand; they may or may not accept the ICJ decision. Cambodia is not seeking to alter the 1962 verdict which is in effect. Thailand accused Cambodia of falsifying the map in order to occupy 4.6 square kilometres. The Thai argument is very weak.''
Chhay Vannlihuong, 20, a student at the Royal University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh said: ''Thailand's argument was based upon a lie.
''They used unilaterally produced maps in order to claim the 4.6 square kilometre piece of land. We depend heavily on the maps produced by the French. The Thais said that the ICJ should not reinterpret the ruling, because Thailand has already implement the 1962 verdict. But I don't agree. If Thailand had respected the decision of the court, we would not have any problems today.''
Several students pointed to Thai ''invasions'' into Cambodian territory over the past 50 years, and a refusal to return antiquities taken from the temple, as proof that Thailand had not respected the 1962 ruling.
Former Khmer Rouge cadres also offered a historical perspective on the dispute and the two small ''Red Houses'' built by military commander Ta Mok, which today stand inside Thai territory.
''Ta Mok's troops had control of the Preah Vihear temple between 1979 and 1991,'' said former Khmer Rouge cadre Vong Pheak.
''The Red Houses inside Thai territory that we can see from our land were built by Ta Mok. After some Khmer Rouge cadres defected from the [Cambodian] government, Thailand took control of the [Red] houses''
A common argument repeated by the Khmer Rouge fighters is that Thai soldiers were not seen near Preah Vihear after 1979 and they never attempted to take the temple from them. One said he did not know the Red Houses were occupied by Thai troops until the border skirmish in 2008.
''Not a single foreign soldier came near the temple,'' said former Khmer Rouge soldier Chum Oeun.
''Only Khmer people lived there. The Red House was built by Ta Mok. Ta Mok directed the construction. The workers were brought from the Anlong Veng area. He [Ta Mok] built that house to serve as a place for his guests to relax after visiting the temple. At that time, not a single Thai soldier came anywhere near there.''
While strident in their defence of Cambodian territory against what they perceived as Thai land-grabbing, several of those interviewed could not understand the need for Cambodia's request for a re-interpretation of the 1962 ruling.
''Why do we need to re-interpret it?'' asked Sam-Ang Ek Sambo, a government official in Kampong Speu province: ''If a husband and wife have been divorced in court, they are divorced. No need to ask the court to read the verdict again. It's a waste of time.''
Others questioned why the hearings were held over the New Year period of both countries and why they were only made accessible online when so few rural Cambodians have access to the internet.
At the heart of the Cambodian's defence team is the Paris-based American lawyer Rodman Bundy.
Mr Bundy has more than 20 years' experience as counsel and advocate in high-profile public international law litigation and international commercial arbitration. In that time he has appeared before the International Court of Justice, the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal and various ad hoc and ICC arbitral tribunals. He also lectures on international boundary disputes at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and is a frequent guest speaker at conferences and workshops on issues of public international law and upstream oil and gas operations.
At The Hague, Mr Bundy helped fight the case for Cambodia, which proposed that the temple's vicinity should be determined by the boundary line that appears in the 1:200,000-scale map created by the French government, which is referred to in Annex I of the original documents presented in court in 1962.
Alina Miron has become something of a celebrity in Thailand thanks to her spirited performance in the Preah Vihear land dispute case at the International Court of Justice.
The Romanian lawyer, who served as assistant to professor Alain Pellet, lead counsel for the Thai legal team, became a regular feature of the nightly live broadcasts from The Hague.
Ms Miron won the hearts of the Thai public with her claim that the map used by Cambodia as evidence of its right to the land had been altered since it was used to settle the original dispute in 1962. She described the document as a product of the imagination, and supported her case with an aerial map provided by the International Boundaries Research Unit, a unit of Durham University in the UK.
She also dismissed Cambodia's claims that its reinterpretation of the original map would help bring an end to the dispute between the two countries, saying it was more likely to fuel tensions.
Prior to appearing at The Hague, Ms Miron had spent three years studying maps of the disputed territory.
Aged 34, Ms Miron speaks six languages and is currently working on a doctorate in France. She has previously served as legal counsel in land dispute cases in Slovenia, Russia, Greece and Nicaragua.
PHOTOS: AP AND PATTARACHAI PREECHAPANICH
As head of the Thai team contesting the Preah Vihear dispute, Virachai Plasai has become a national hero thanks to his appearances at the International Court of Justice.
The 53 year old, known to his friends and family as Saap (smart alec), has been praised for his determined efforts to prove Cambodia falsified the map on which it is contesting the land dispute.
Mr Virachai earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the Sorbonne in Paris, and has held several government posts, including director-general of both the Department of International Economic Affairs and the Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs.
As part of his research for the ICJ hearings, Mr Virachai said he referred to key documents produced by the United States and France, made available on WikiLeaks, that related to the original dispute.
The documents, he said, were ''sophisticated and advanced'' and he applied the same principles when compiling his evidence for presentation in The Hague.
COMPILED BY CHAIYOT YONGCHAROENCHAI
WHY THAILAND THINKS IT WILL WIN
Thai lawyers argue that the conclusions made by the International Court of Justice in 1962 pertained only to Preah Vihear temple and its immediate surrounding area.
They contend that Thailand obeyed the judgement by pulling its security forces just outside the temple grounds and that Cambodia accepted that state of affairs.
Thus, the Thai lawyers assert, there is nothing to justify an ICJ reinterpretation.
They also claim that Cambodia's request for a reinterpretation does not meet the conditions laid down by Article 60 of the Statute of the Court, and that, consequently, the court has no jurisdiction to respond to that request and/or that the request is inadmissible.
Thailand also claims that the 1962 judgement does not determine with binding force the boundary line between Thailand and Cambodia, nor does it fix the limit of the vicinity of the temple.
WHY CAMBODIA THINKS IT WILL WIN
Lawyers representing Cambodia argue that a dispute does exist and a reinterpretation is therefore required to resolve the issue. Their argument is based on the assumption that the 1962 judgement gave the 1907 map line binding effect. The court's 1962 conclusions were inseparable from its reasoning, they have said.
As a result, they claim that both the temple and the 4.6 square kilometres directly to its west belong to Cambodia.
A reinterpretation is also necessary, Cambodia claims, as the two sides clearly interpret differently the references to ''Cambodian territory''and the ''vicinity'' of the temple as outlined in the 1962 ruling.
Cambodia's counsel also presented several pieces of evidence to show that the interpretive dispute is not new. Throughout the 1960s, Prince Norodom Sihanouk and others indicated their disapproval of Thailand's stationing of personnel and erection of a barbed-wire fence in the disputed 4.6 sq km strip.