THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Cambodia, not Thailand, has sovereignty over a disputed promontory around a 1,000-year-old temple, the U.N.'s highest court ruled Monday in a unanimous decision on a long-simmering border dispute.
The International Court of Justice said a 1962 ruling by its judges gave Cambodia sovereignty over the Preah Vihear promontory and Thailand is now obligated to withdraw any military or police forces stationed there.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed the ruling, saying it "gives the frontier between the two countries a clear borderline." He said both countries have agreed to work to maintain peace at the historic temple. He told Cambodian troops to stay on their side of the border and "avoid any activity that would cause tensions."
Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the verdict offered "satisfactory results to both sides" and promised the two neighbors will work together to implement it. In a televised address, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said stressed the need for cooperation with Cambodia.
"Thailand and Cambodia share an 800-kilometer (500-mile) border," she said, adding that the Southeast Asian neighbors "have to rely on each other for prosperity." UNESCO put the temple, perched on a rocky plateau overlooking Thailand and Cambodia, on its world heritage list in 2008, calling it "an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture." But the 2008 listing — intended to help protect the site — led to an escalation of tensions.
Cambodia went back to the court in 2011, following several clashes between its army and Thai forces. The court created a demilitarized zone around the temple after fighting left about 20 dead and displaced thousands of people, but subsequent talks about withdrawing troops went nowhere.
Soldiers from both countries were seen near the temple over the weekend ahead of the judgment and villagers feared the ruling could trigger new military clashes. The court in The Hague did not draw any new maps Monday but said the promontory is bordered by steep slopes on most sides and to the north a border drawn up in 1907 by the French.
In Srah Kdol, a Cambodian village 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the temple, several families had left ahead of the verdict and others had dug bunkers for protection. Cambodian Mann Vanna, 55, said he was happy with the decision.
"This ruling will end the bad blood that has flowed from the people of both countries. Thailand has to respect it," he said, his eyes filling with tears.
Associated Press writers Sopheng Cheang and Justine Drennan contributed from Srah Kdol, Cambodia.