Oral arguments regarding the Preah Vihear temple territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia are scheduled to start on April 15 at the International Court of Justice. The Bangkok Post Sunday spoke with the Thai ambassador to The Hague, Virachai Plasai, who will head the Thai legal team in the case.
Virachai Plasai, Thai ambassador to The Hague
How are preparations going for the case?
We will have Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana and Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwannathat make presentations during the oral hearings. In terms of evidence, we have submitted about 1,300 pages of documents to the court, while Cambodia has handed over about 300 pages.
Why has Thailand produced so much documentary evidence? What are our main points of argument?
After Cambodia asked the ICJ in April 2011 to clarify and interpret its 1962 ruling on Preah Vihear, they put forward their arguments. We provided a response in November 2011. When Cambodia added more points to their case in March 2012, we responded by supplying more information in June 2012.
Obviously we are not able to make public our strategic points for the case at this time. However, all the documents will be available on the ICJ website on April 15 at 3pm. The Thai language version will also be available at the same time on the Foreign Ministry's website (www.mfa.go.th).
Ensuring that this case is handled transparently is high on my agenda. I am glad that all top figures in the government have supported the move to make all written documents and details of the hearings publicly available.
Does the Thai team feel confident of victory?
We've done everything we could to put up the best argument possible, but now it is up to the court to decide.
The government is making a lot of effort to reach out to the public, with a planned live broadcast of the hearings complete with real-time translation. What do you think about this?
What we are doing is guaranteeing transparency in how we deal with the issue.
In the current, highly connected world, people should be able to access necessary information and analyse the issues by themselves. We recommended that the government provide the live broadcast and real-time translation by internationally recognised professional interpretation services during the oral hearings. Our stance is that we should share the progress of the hearings as much as possible and as quickly as possible within legal boundaries.
What happens after the oral hearings?
It is up to the court to decide if they will require anything else. But as of now, the next important date is the court's ruling, which is expected in late October.
Are you worried about protesters setting up camps near the Thai-Cambodia border and the possibility of violence if Thailand loses the case?
First of all, I've been given full backing from both the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties _ materials, moral support and budget _ for which I am thankful.
Secondly, I'm not disheartened by any move as long as people act within the law. I've listened carefully to the arguments made by various protesters and we have taken some of those points on board in our case.
The Thai team has its feet firmly on the ground. We wish we could do more, but with the limited time available we have done our utmost to reach out to every group, to listen to all stakeholders as much as possible.
Do you sincerely believe this decades-long saga will end soon?
I hope everything will finish this year or early next year at the latest. The court will see the whole picture and reach a final decision. All I can say is that the Thai legal team has put forward the best defence we could.
About the author
- Writer: Achara Ashayagachat