- By Edmund DownieEdmund Downie is a Yale University Gordon Grand Fellow currently interning at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. He works on the regional political economy of Asia. Follow him at @ned_downie.
A two square mile patch of grassland on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, surrounding the 11th-century Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, has been a regional flashpoint for decades. The skirmishes have escalated in recent years and both countries maintain hundreds of troops along the border. But the fighting could quiet down soon if the sides agree to a ruling today by the U.N.’s International Court of Justice. The court declared that a demilitarized zone should be established immediately in the region surrounding the temple, outlined here in diagrams from the Bangkok Post. The two countries have indicated they would abide by the decision.
With the U.N. ruling, the area surrounding Preah Vihear joins a handful of other demilitarized zones around the world. The most famous of these has divided North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The zone has played an important role maintaining the uneasy peace between the two countries, while also serving as a surprisingly effective wildlife refuge for a number of northeast Asia’s endangered species. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the buffer zone established under U.N. control in 1974 between Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a breakaway region recognized only by Turkey.
Israel also deals with its share of DMZs — one at the Golan Heights, where U.N. forces have maintained the ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974, and one at the Sinai Peninsula. But the latter now contains Egyptian soldiers deployed with Israel’s permission during the chaos of the Arab Spring, after Bedouin tribesmen started bombing gas lines in the region to protest their treatment at the hands of the Egyptian government. Israel imports 40 percent of its gas from Egypt.
Looking for the next emerging DMZ? The two Sudans agreed in late May to set up a demilitarized zone along their border, but the details are still very much in the works. Conflict continues to brew over the contested region of Abyei, which lies in the middle of the border. Without a resolution to the dispute, the DMZ there could be a long ways off.