“Talking is better than fighting though,” Pich Tong, a restaurant owner in Sra Em told The Diplomat. “We had enough fighting in the country with the Khmer Rouge, we don’t want fighting anymore.”
But on the ground, the situation is tense. Cambodian pillboxes buttressed with sandbags dot the foothills around the temple, while army encampments and garrisons line the steep climb up the mountain and idle soldiers lie in hammocks with their guns, eyeing their counterparts through binoculars.
A Thai flag flaps on a hill opposite the temple, in viewing distance from the ruins of the ancient sacred site, apparently damaged from shelling in 2011.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
A Cambodian policeman at the temple points to the dense jungle on the Thai side of the border: “The Thai army. They are waiting there,” he said.
In recent days, ultra-nationalist Thai groups have held rallies on their side of the border to protest the ICJ hearings. By contrast, Cambodians are “quietly confident” that the verdict will be favorable, and in any case, trust the court and are likely to abide by its’ final decision, according to independent Cambodian political analyst Lao Mong Hay.
“If the results are negative for the Thais, there might be agitation on the other side of the border,” he told The Diplomat. “And then it’s a big question whether Thailand will accept the court decision or not.”
This raises the prospect of renewed violence when the court delivers its verdict later in the year.
“The key is the Thai army, not the government,” Mong Hay added. “Officially it is responsible for Thailand’s territorial integrity and is responsible to the King.”
Relations between the two countries have dramatically improved since mid-2011 when Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, became Thailand’s first female PM.
Thaksin, whom many believe pulls the strings behind his sister’s government, is a close friend of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Polarized domestic politics in Thailand significantly contributed to the escalation of tension in 2008, according to well-known Thai political scientist Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak,
“One side of the Thai political divide exploited Cambodia’s temple listing [in 2008] and turned it into a principal plank to derail a pro-Thaksin government at the time,” he said.