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After the International Court of Justice Order of 18 July 2011

By: Norbert Klein Posted: July-26-2011 in
Cambodian Map 18 June 2008
Norbert Klein

The Cambodian government had requested the International Court of Justice – ICJ – for an interpretation of the judgment of 15 June 1962 concerning the temple of Preah Vihear, and had also requested some provisional measures to be taken against the presence of Thai troops in the region. The court pronounced, in response, an order on 18 July 2011. [Source:]

Ever since, there have been a lot of comments in the press not only from the directly affected countries of Cambodia and Thailand, and also official comments in the name of the governments of the two countries – sometimes government agencies also responding to foreign press reports as if they were official government positions. Some reports make statements which do not seem to be based on positions stated in official texts. There has also been information about conditions one or the other side was said to have put forward – not based on text in the ICJ’s order. The following is an attempt to recollect some related old and new pieces of information.

First of all it should be noted that Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated, during a 2 ½ hours press conference on Friday, 22 July 2011,

“…Cambodia’s willingness to comply with a UN court ordered withdrawal of troops from around Preah Vihear temple, but blasted outgoing Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva for his insistence that Cambodia leave the disputed area first.
“He said Cambodia supports [the International Court of Justice] first, so Cambodia has to witdraw troops first, too… This is a childish wording, and it’s not a game,” Mr Hun Sen said…
Mr. Hun Sen repeatedly underscored Cambodia’s readiness to enforce the ICJ’s ruling and work in cooperation with Indonesian observer teams…” [Source: The Cambodia Daily, 23/24 July 2011]

After analyzing the situation, major arguments and decisions are in sections 11, 60 to 63, and 69 of the International Court of Justuce order:

in Section 11 the Cambodian requests are presented;
in Section 48 it is noted that the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – ASEAN – to find a solution to the conflict led to a proposal by the Chair of ASEAN to send Indonesian observers into the field, but Cambodia alleges that this proposal failed because of conditions laid down by Thailand;
in Section 60 the court states that it does not find that its decisions must be the same, or limited to what Cambodia had requested;

in Section 61 the court defines a zone which shall be kept provisionally free of all military personnel;
in Section 62 it describes the location of a demilitarized zone;
in Section 63 it states that both parties shall withdraw all military personnel currently in the zone and shall refrain from any military presence there and also from any armed activity directed at the said zone;
in Section 69 it orders both parties to immediately withdraw their military personnel currently present in the provisional demilitarized zone, and to refrain from any military presence within that zone and from any armed activity directed at that zone.

For further reference, it should be noted that the final order of the court does not relate in any way to the absence or presence of Indonesian observers.

As for past conflicts of interpretation, according to many reports – for example also in the following text from the Chinese News Agency Xinhua – Thailand had agreed to the deployment of Indonesian observers “to each border side” – while Cambodia had wanted that the Indonesian observers should also be placed within the contested area, claimed by Cambodia, and not only outside of it.

While the present court order clearly requests that both parties immediately withdraw their military personnel currently in the demilitarized zone, it does not refer in any way to the deployment of Indonesian observers as a condition for the ordered “immediate withdrawal” of military forces.

The Cambodian side seems to say that an “immediate” withdrawal of it forces depends on the prior deployment of Indonesian observers, and, in some other statements, seems to assume that an “immediate” withdrawal of forces may have to wait until a new government is installed in Thailand (no date yet available, after the Thai elections of 3 July 2011). Various statements from Thailand also seem to interpret the term “immediately” in a similar, not clear way.

My big English dictionary defines the term “immediately” as “without delay, at once, instantly.”

It is also interesting to compare the two maps: The one signed by the Adviser to the Cambodian Government in Charge of State Border Affairs Var Kim Hong, signed on 18 June 2008, and integrated into the UNESCO document of the same day, signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, declaring that “the Kingdom of Cambodia accepts that the Temple of Preah Vihear be nominated for inscription on the World Heritage list without at this stage a buffer zone on the northern and western areas of the Temple.” And the other map, the demilitarized zone ordered by the International Court of Justice 0n 18 July 2011. They are not identical, but similar.

The delineating and marking the border between Cambodia and Thailand is still waiting to be achieved in the future.



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