Sanity needed in temple row

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will chair a high-level meeting tomorrow with the military top brass, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, the Thai ambassador to the Hague and the government's legal team to discuss how Thailand will win its claim against Cambodia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the 4.6 square kilometres of disputed territory around the Preah Vihear temple.

After the meeting, members of the press will be briefed about what was discussed and the government's position pertaining to the dispute.

It wants to make sure the public is accurately informed to avoid any misunderstandings and head off the conspiracy theory spread by certain extreme nationalists that the government is selling out over the disputed land to Phnom Penh in exchange for business interests pursued by certain individuals.

A group of self-styled nationalists called the Thai Patriots Network protested on Monday with a stern call for the government to reject the ICJ and its pending ruling. The group as well as a few senators have expressed concerns that Thailand is likely to lose the case which would be a repeat of the court's 1962 verdict which awarded the temple, minus the disputed territory, to Cambodia.

Referring to concerns about a possible legal defeat, Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat was quoted to have said: "The boxing match has not yet started and we are now talking about losing the fight. Then why should we fight in the first place?"

He is right that we should not jump to conclusions prematurely, as the legal battle has not yet started.

The two parties will present their submissions to the court in the Hague in April.

But the concern is not completely without justification given an earlier remark by Foreign Minister Surapong that he was not sure Thailand would win the case.

The opposition and some nationalists regard Mr Surapong's stance as tantamount to announcing defeat before the battle has begun, which they find discouraging and disappointing. They had expected a strong-willed minister who would put up a brave fight because the government is wrangling not just over a small piece of land, but national dignity.

While the case is yet to begin in earnest, it does make sense for cool heads to prevail. The self-styled nationalists are free to take to the streets again to show their patriotism, so long as they protest within the framework of the law. But jingoistic rhetoric and battle cries will only worsen relations between the two countries.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha's remark this week that the army was ready to go to war to protect the country's territorial sovereignty if Thailand loses the court case, and if it was ordered to do so by the government, appears to curry favour with the nationalists but yet seems improper under the circumstances.

The last thing Thailand needs is to go to war with Cambodia, as it would benefit no one except arms merchants.

For that matter, the ICJ has a moral responsibility _ not just a legal obligation _ to avoid pushing the two countries into a corner so they have no other option but armed confrontation.

The court's verdict should be one which seeks to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner _ that is, by ensuring the tiny disputed area is jointly developed for the benefit of both Cambodia and Thailand.

The land shouldn't serve as a graveyard for young Thai and Cambodian soldiers.