Cambodia and Thailand on Wednesday withdrew troops from a disputed area near an ancient temple on their border which had been the site of deadly cross-border clashes, honoring a ruling handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) a year ago.
The troops had been stationed along the border near Preah Vihear Temple for more than four years.
Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh presided over a redeployment ceremony near the temple, saying that nearly 500 soldiers had worked hard to protect Cambodian sovereignty and that their withdrawal from the demilitarized zone showed that the country respected the ICJ’s decision of July last year.
“We are the owner [of the temple area],” Tea Banh said.
“We have the duty to protect our heritage and we have complied with the court order.”
Thailand’s Defense Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat traveled to the Thai side of the border to take part in the country’s own ceremony marking the withdrawal of an unknown number of troops.
On July 18, 2011 the ICJ created a 17 square kilometer (6.6 square mile) Provisional Demilitarized Zone (PDZ) around the temple and ordered the removal of Cambodian and Thai troops.
Cambodian troops stationed at the border, where fighting killed 28 people last year, said they were happy to be returning home after so many years.
One soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, said he didn’t want to see further bloodshed between the Thai and Cambodian militaries.
“I am very happy with the withdrawal. I will see my wife and children,” he said.
“I don’t want war, we want to have peace. I want to go back and farm my land.”
Suos Yara, a Cambodian official in charge of the ceasefire, said 485 Cambodian troops had been redeployed from four separate locations near the border.
In their stead, authorities will deploy about 300 police and guards to protect the temple site, he said.
Cambodia will continue to administer the thousand-year-old Hindu temple, which the ICJ awarded to Cambodia in a ruling in 1962.
The two sides have exchanged several rounds of fire since 2008, when the temple, located atop a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tensions have eased over the past year with the installation of a new Thai government that is more sympathetic to Cambodia, but both countries still have disputing claims to the 4.6 square kilometers (1.8 square miles) of land around the temple.
Reported by Hang Sayvouth for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.