(14 November) Thailand′s ambassador to the Hague has warned that a Democrat MP′s speeches delivered to Parliament last night could play into Cambodia′s hands regarding its claim on the disputed territory around the Preah Vihear Temple.
Both Thailand and Cambodia claim sovereignty over the land of 4.6 square kilometres surrounding the 900 year old Hindu temple perched on the border between the two nations.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled in favour of Cambodia earlier this week, reaffirming its previous 1962 verdict that the temple and its immediate vicinity decidedly belongs to Cambodia, and demanding that Thailand withdraw its security forces from the area.
It also awarded a small tip of the promontory neighbouring Preah Vihear Temple, which is currently under Thailand′s oversight, to Cambodia, judging its natural features to be a part of the temple complex. The extent of the land described by the ICJ remains unclear.
But the ICJ judges refused to ascertain the ownership of the disputed 4.6 square kilometres territory around the hill of Phnom Trap, as a part of the 98th paragraph of the ICJ full judgement text reads, "The Court considers that Phnom Trap lay outside the disputed area and the 1962 Judgment did not address the question whether it was located in Thai or Cambodian territory".
However, anti-government critics, many of whom are known to frequently employ ultra-nationalist rhetoric, accused the Thai government of losing the case, claiming the verdict as beneficial to Cambodia′s position.
One such critic, Mr. Sirichoke Sopha, a Democrat MP, said during a parliamentary session last night that although the scope of the 98th paragraph did not pronounce an exact amount of territory Thailand is forced to hand to Cambodia, he has been told by an unnamed "expert" that the verdict could result in up to 2 square kilometres of "lost territory" for Thailand.
Mr. Sirichoke also insisted that, contrary to the Thai government′s reassurance to the public, the ICJ judgement effectively validated the borderline advocated by the Cambodian authorities, which means Cambodia is now entitled to grab the entire disputed territory of 4.6 square kilometres around Phnom Trap.
"I demand the government to be honest to the public about this matter," said Mr. Sirichoke, as he presented the map of the disputed territory on the Parliament′s video screen.
The MP′s comments were met with fiery responses from Mr. Virachai Plasai, the Thai Ambassador to the Hague, who had represented Thailand in the legal battle before the ICJ judges.
Usually soft-spoken and composed in the media, Mr. Virachai was visibly angry as he denounced Mr. Sirichoke′s analysis as fraudulent. "Your expert has spent only 48 hours in interpreting the 98th paragraph [of the ruling]," he said, "But our best experts at Durham University, England, are still scratching their heads what the paragraph actually refers to".
As the paragraph did not make clear how large the promontory near Preah Vihear Temple Thailand has to hand to Cambodia, the diplomat said, his team will refrain from giving suggestions concerning the territory to Parliament before proper studies of the verdict are completed.
Mr. Virachai also warned that the map presented to the Parliament by Mr. Sirichoke is based on the claim of the Cambodian authorities, as Cambodia has always insisted that it has the sovereignty over the disputed territory around Phnom Trap hill.
"It′s the lines Cambodia has drawn up on its own discretion. Our team has been working very hard, to the point that our eyes almost spill blood, to destroy that line of claims," said Mr. Virachai, "And we succeeded, because the ICJ has clearly stated in the 99th paragraph of its judgement that a unilateral [border] line is unacceptable."
He added, "But what Mr. Sirichoke has been doing tonight is validating the lines Cambodia have drawn up. He is damaging the interest of the nation … if the Cambodians are watching the broadcast of this debate right now – and I believe that they are – they would be smiling".
The negotiation over the ownership of the disputed 4.6 square kilometres will become very difficult because the Cambodians can claim that even a member of Thai Parliament has insisted the ICJ verdict gave Cambodia that entire territory, according to Mr. Virachai.
"As the head of the legal team [to the ICJ], let me stress here on behalf of the Thai people and the Thai nation, that Mr. Sirichoke′s comments belong to only one Member of Parliament. They have no legal binding in international laws" Mr. Virachai said, "Mr. Sirichoke′s acceptance of the border drawn by Cambodia is not the official position of Thailand".
After Mr. Virachai had concluded his remarks, Mr. Sirichoke stood up and replied, "It′s really surprising to see such an aggressive reaction from Ambassador Virachai".
The MP also insisted that his dedication to help Thailand′s position is no less than Mr. Virachai′s.