Hun Sen Says Border Row No Reason to Be Enemies With Thailand

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday sought to assure Cambodians of continued peace with Thailand no matter how the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rules in their tense border dispute around Preah Vihear temple.

The ICJ on Friday wrapped up four days of hearings at The Hague in the Netherlands over a 4.6 square km tract of land beside the temple for which the two neighbors have fought a series of brief but deadly clashes since 2008, and is expected to rule by the end of the year.

“Even though both nations go to court, it does not mean Cam­bodia and Thailand must be enemies and fight each other,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a pagoda inauguration ceremony in Prey Veng province.

“Myself and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck [Shinawatra] have worked together so that regardless of the result of the verdict, we will not enflame this issue to become a conflict between the two nations.”

It was a far different tone than the one the prime minister struck in February, when he warned that “the Thais will use armed forces” should the ICJ rule in Cambodia’s favor on the ownership of the disputed land.

During last week’s hearings at The Hague, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong also warned of “unfortunate consequences” if the court chose not to settle the dispute and instead rule Cambodia’s request for a definitive decision inadmissible, as Thailand has asked the court to do.

But Mr. Hun Sen on Monday did fret about what would come of the provisional demilitarized zone around the disputed area that the ICJ called for the establishment of in July 2011—a measure to prevent further fighting—after the ruling is announced.

“Will the court keep that area to be a demilitarized zone forever or let it return to the same situation [as before] where both nations station their soldiers in that area?” he asked, offering no answers himself.

As for the decision by Cam­bodia’s television broadcasters—all controlled by or closely tied to Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling CPP—not to broadcast the Hague hearings live, and translated into Khmer, as the Thai government did for its people, the prime minister said the legal arguments were simply too complex for Cambodians to understand.

“Some people wonder why we did not do a live broadcast? There is no need to do so. It is too complicated,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

Despite his own morbid warnings of insecurity at the ICJ last week, Mr. Namhong also strove for more palliative words on returning Monday from The Hague, where he led Cambodia’s legal team before the court.

“The prime minister has talked to Prime Minister Yingluck and I have talked directly with the Thai foreign minister, and whatever the ICJ decides, we have to stay calm and comply with the court’s decision,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)

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