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Thai villagers return after verdict on disputed Preah Vihear temple

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
updated 3:24 AM EST, Tue November 12, 2013
A man watches the ICJ verdict on television in Sra Em, Cambodia, near the Preah Vihear temple on November 11, 2013.
A man watches the ICJ verdict on television in Sra Em, Cambodia, near the Preah Vihear temple on November 11, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Villagers near the disputed temple begin returning to their homes
  • The UN's International Court of Justice rules Cambodia has sovereignty over area
  • Thailand still retains jurisdiction over a nearby hill that formed part of the dispute
  • Tensions in the five-decade-old dispute boiled over in 2011 when five were killed in skirmishes

(CNN) -- Thai villagers close to the disputed Preah Vihear temple began returning to their homes Tuesday following a decision in the International Court of Justice -- the UN's highest court -- that awarded sovereignty over most of the land around the temple to Cambodia.

Residents displaced by simmering tensions began returning to the border region, convinced the ICJ verdict will restore peace, according to Thailand's The Nation newspaper.

A panel of judges ruled on Monday that the promontory on which the temple sits was part of Cambodia, although the court did not give Cambodia full control over all the territory saying it had no jurisdiction over a nearby hill -- known as Pheu Makhua - that formed part of the dispute.

"In consequence, Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers that were stationed there," president of the International Court of Justice Peter Tomka said in the judgement.

In a televised address, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that Thailand would hold talks with Cambodia to finally resolve the 51-year-old dispute.

''Thailand will enter negotiations with Cambodia to put an end to the issue,'' she said in a nationally televised press conference. "I would like all Thais to be confident that the government will be at its best in protecting national interests."

The permanent secretary of Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sihasak Puangketkaew told a press conference that the court had ruled on the vicinity but not on the exact boundaries between the two countries.

"How much territory we lose I don't know, but it will be a bit of land. It depends on what is negotiated with Cambodia," he said, adding that Thailand intended to keep troops in the vicinity.

The Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen called for calm ahead of the court decision this week, saying that Thailand and Cambodia intended to abide by the court's decision.

"I would appeal to the armed forces fulfilling their duties in the border area to maintain calmness, patience and avoid actions that would cause tension or eventual clashes," he said in a statement.

The 11th century Hindu temple sits atop a cliff on Cambodian soil but has its most accessible entrance on the Thai side. The two countries differ on whether some territory around the temple forms part of Thailand or Cambodia.

Thailand will enter negotiations with Cambodia to put an end to the issue
Yingluck Shinawatra

The Hague-based International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962. Thailand claims, however, that the 1.8 square mile (4.6 sq. km) area around it was never fully demarcated.

Thailand says the dispute arose from the fact that the Cambodian government used a map drawn during the French occupation of Cambodia - a map that places the temple and surrounding area in Cambodian territory.

In 2008, the United Nations approved Cambodia's application to have the temple listed as a World Heritage Site -- a place the U.N. says has outstanding universal value.

The decision re-ignited tensions, with some in Thailand fearing it will make it difficult for their country to lay claim to disputed land around the temple.

Both sides agreed to withdraw troops from the disputed area in December 2011 following border skirmishes earlier that year that left five people dead. As many as 27,000 people were displaced by the fighting.

One Thai nationalist group, the Thai Patriotic Network, has said it would reject any judgment from the ICJ, according to The Nation newspaper.

"Thai people who know the reality would not allow the government to comply with the ICJ judgement. What the government has done could be deemed as 'selling the nation' to foreigners," Chaiwat Sinsuwong, leader of Thai Patriotic Network, told The Nation.

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