The dispute over jurisdiction has been ongoing since the 1950s. Another, more significant temple, the 11th-century Preah Vihear, was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), although Thai nationalists still bristle at the way the decision was made.
Thailand is challenging Cambodia’s listing of the ruins as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its management plans, because the ICJ did not rule on the 4.6 square kilometres (1.8 square miles) of land around it.
Thai movements opposing the country’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had used the UNESCO listing issue to whip up nationalist sentiments, the report said. Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 coup and his sister now leads the country.
Later, in 2008, ultra-nationalist “yellow shirts” argued that Thaksin’s proxy administration in power at the time of the listing had sold out their motherland and committed treason.
According to the report, the emotionally charged campaigns in Thailand halted border demarcation and sparked a bilateral conflict.
After the outbreak of hostilities in 2011, the United Nations Security Council set a precedent by referring the issue back to ASEAN.
Its then chair, Indonesia, showing “energetic and bold leadership” helped get both sides to agree to receive teams of Indonesian observers to monitor a ceasefire.
However, this is yet to be implemented, the report said, after Thailand backtracked due to the military’s resistance to having observers. The situation has not changed, despite expectations of a possible ceasefire when Yingluck Shinawatra’s government was elected in July 2011.
“Even a ruling by ICJ that ordered the creation of a provisional demilitarised zone around the temple and called on ASEAN to monitor a troop withdrawal did not remove political obstacles,” the report said.
This is partly because the government was overwhelmed by some of the worst floods Thailand has seen in decades, the report added. With the waters now subsiding, the report said Thailand and Cambodia “need to recommit to complying with the ICJ decision as soon as possible.”
“Hostilities will not truly have been ended until there is a written ceasefire and observers are present to witness the withdrawal of troops as mandated by ASEAN and ordered by the ICJ,” it said.
“With a history of broken verbal ceasefires, the existing gentlemen’s agreements between frontline commanders (are) insufficient.”