Sunday, 4 September 2011

Thailand- Cambodia border dispute

There is a long-running border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over territory in the vicinity of Preah Vihear, a temple complex dating from the 11th century. 

In 1959 the dispute was referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled that the area in the vicinity of Preah Vihear was part of Cambodian territory. Thailand accepts Cambodia's sovereignty over Preah Vihear. However land surrounding the temple remains in dispute. This assumes importance because the geography of the area is such that the most easily accessible entrance to the temple complex is in Thailand. 

In 2007 Cambodia applied for the temple complex to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple complex was listed despite formal objections from Thailand. Tension between the two countries mounted.  In July 2008, Thailand and Cambodia moved troops into the disputed area.  Several incidents followed, and troops exchanged fire in October 2008, and more recently in Feb- April 2011. Thousands have been displaced in this conflict.

Both Cambodia and Thailand wrote to the Security Council in 2008 following the escalation of tension in July 2008 and more recently in 2011. Eventually both sides have agreed to discuss the issue bilaterally. 

In July 2011, The International Court of Justice issued a series of provisional measures. The two states were ordered to refrain from engaging in further fighting in the area, immediately withdraw all troops and establish a demilitarised zone of approximately 4.5 miles by 2.5 miles along the border. Thailand was further ordered not to obstruct Cambodia’s access to Preah Vihear and both states were ordered to allow observers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations into the demilitarised zone.3

The dispute has become a rallying point of nationalism in both countries. Nationalist movements in both Thailand and Cambodia have stressed the importance of claiming the Preah Vihear temple for their own countries. 2

Also, the dispute occurred at a time when Thailand was holding national elections. In this situation, the dispute raised concerns in Thailand of a resurgence of military and cancellation of polls. However the polls were held and Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra won. (The military has since announced that it would not interfere in the Government’s work).


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