Published: 19/02/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
The government was hardly taken by surprise when Cambodia resorted to citing the International Court of Justice's 1962 ruling on ownership of Preah Vihear as the border dispute between the two sides unfolded this week.
The ICJ ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but did not determine who owned the 4.6 square kilometres of surrounding land.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong raised the 1962 verdict at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting in New York on Monday.
In the last paragraph of his statement, Hor Namhong said the UNSC may refer to the ICJ for interpretation of its judgement according to Article 96.1 of the UN Charter, because the 1962 ruling - and its misinterpretation - is the root cause of the conflict.
The UNSC, however, did not look closely into the ICJ's decision, instead calling for the two countries to agree to a permanent ceasefire and to allow Asean to mediate the matter.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Thursday that his government would ask the ICJ to rule on the matter again.
Phnom Penh is adamant that bilateral negotiations are not the answer to the dispute and will try all means to avoid them. It prefers to take the matter back to court, because it has won there before.
Cambodia is also aware that Thailand does not favour outsiders getting involved in the border row - which is perhaps why Phnom Penh is proposing signing a peace deal witnessed by other Asean member countries.
Thailand is unlikely to agree, so the meeting of all 10 Asean foreign ministers in Jakarta on Feb 22 looks unlikely to result in a solution.
In taking the case back to the ICJ, Phnom Penh is prepared to hire lawyers who have experience fighting border disputes before the international court. But Thailand is confident it will be able to better defend itself this time if the matter does go to the ICJ.
Bangkok believes the ICJ will not hand a repeat victory to Cambodia simply on the basis of its 1962 ruling.
That the dispute has carried on ever since highlights its complexity.
If this assumption is true, the ICJ might defer its authority to the two countries to reach their own settlement, which would back up Thailand's position that no one knows the problems on the border better than those involved in the dispute: itself, and Cambodia.