Thai-Cambodian Relations and the International Court of Justice
On 29 April 2011, Mr. Thani Thongphakdi, Director-General of the Department of Information and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, together with Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn, Deputy Secretary-General to the Prime Minister and Acting Government Spokesperson, and Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, Royal Thai Army Spokesman, gave a press briefing on the situation along the Thai-Cambodian border and Cambodia’s submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Gist as follows:
1. The Deputy Secretary-General said that the Thai Government was disappointed with the clashes that reoccurred on 28 April 2011 after the Thai Second Army Region Commander had held talks earlier in the day with the Cambodian Fourth Army Region Commander on ceasing hostilities. He also expressed the Government’s condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost and those who were injured. The Thai Government calls upon the Cambodian Government to adhere to the agreement to cease hostilities which was reached by the local officers of both countries in order to bring back peace to the area. The Thai Government is committed to the principle of peaceful negotiations and affirms that it does not have a policy of attacking neighbouring countries, and that Thailand will respond only to defend itself and protect its people, which has been the position of successive Thai governments, in line with the practice of international relations.
The Deputy Secretary-General further stated that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would attend the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia next week and would use this opportunity to clarify the situation to the other ASEAN leaders. The Prime Minister is also considering the possibility of having a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Cambodia on the sidelines of the Summit.
2. The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said that on the morning of 29 April 2011, the Cambodian side released a statement revealing that it had submitted a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an interpretation of the Court’s 1962 ruling on the case concerning the Temple of Phra Viharn. The Thai was informed earlier about this development and was now awaiting formal notification. This move by Cambodia is not beyond expectation. Assessment of Cambodia’s actions from the beginning indicates it would move in this direction. Furthermore, during the seventh meeting of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation on 3-4 February 2011, Mr. Hor Namhong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia had informed the Thai Foreign Minister that if no further progress could be made by the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC), the Cambodian side would submit its request to the ICJ to interpret the aforementioned ruling of the Court.
This action by Cambodia reflects the fact that it has been harbouring an ulterior motive. By initiating armed clashes along the Thai-Cambodian border since 22 April 2011, Cambodian had laid the groundwork and created an environment which it hoped would be conducive for it to go to the ICJ. On its part, Thailand is ready and has been making the necessary preparations for quite some time now, including establishing a working group and seeking the services of foreign legal advisers on this case. Thailand still believes bilateral negotiation remains the best approach to resolve boundary problem between the two countries. However, given the fact that the Cambodian side has sought an interpretation from the ICJ, the Thai side is prepared to take appropriate action. This decision by Cambodia also reflects its disregard and wish to bypass the role of ASEAN in helping facilitate the bilateral process between Thailand and Cambodia.
3. Regarding the latest clashes, the Army Spokesperson said that clashes reoccurred at 21.00 hrs. followed by sporadic clashes despite the fact that on 28 April 2011, Lieutenant-General Thawatchai Samutsakorn, Thailand’s Second Army Region Commander had held talks with Lieutenant-General Chea Mon, Cambodia’s Fourth Military Region Commander at Chong Jom whereupon it was agreed that the results of their discussions, including a preliminary agreement to cease hostilities, would be reported to their superiors. The clashes led to the death of one soldier and seven soldiers being injured on the Thai side. The Army Spokesperson opined that, looking positively, the clashes might have resulted from miscommunication and there may have been issues of command and control amongst the Cambodian troops since the Fourth Army Region Commander who led the talks with Thailand’s Second Army Region Commander was not directly responsible for the area where the clashes took place. Be that as it may, in the evening of 29 April 2011, talks between the commanders of units stationed on the front line were arranged in Osamet District, Odor Meanchey Province. Issues discussed included making sure that units under their respective command exercise caution in the use of their weapons in order to prevent misunderstandings that might lead to clashes. Furthermore, information was exchanged so that local officers of both countries could promptly coordinate with each other if incidents occur. All this shows Thailand’s sincerity in trying to end armed clashes through peaceful means. Thailand would continue to monitor whether Cambodia would be able to turn the results of the negotiations into concrete action.
4. In response media enquiries about steps taken by the Government when clashes occurred, besides those taken by the military, the Deputy Secretary-General to the Prime Minister stated that the Government is the one who determines the approach to be taken by the military as prescribed by the provisions of the Thai Constitution. This approach would remain unchanged even if there is a change of government – that is, military force would be used in self-defence to secure Thailand’s sovereignty and protect the people.
The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson added that the foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia had spoken on telephone on 23 April 2011 and agreed to meet during the ASEAN Summit to be held on 7-8 May 2011, and there is also a possibility for a meeting between the Thai and Cambodian prime ministers.
In response to questions about the issues raised in Cambodia’s submission to the ICJ requesting an interpretation of the case concerning the Temple of Phra Viharn, the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said that this issue would become clearer once the official notification is received, which should happen within the next 24 hours. Nonetheless, based on Cambodia’s statement, it could be that Cambodia would request the ICJ to make an interpretation on the “vicinity” of the Temple. The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson further noted that the submission of the request for such interpretation by the ICJ could be made under Article 60 of the ICJ Statute. He underlined that since the ICJ has yet to thoroughly consider all the evidence and facts before deciding how to proceed with the matter, and given that the ICJ must also allow the disputing parties to present their respective observations and evidence for the Court’s consideration, all of which would take time, it would be inappropriate to prejudge the outcome.