Preah Vihear temple
People visit the Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia (Reuters)

Tension is brewing on the border between Thailand and Cambodia as the top international court is due to issue a verdict on the disputed area of land around the Preah Vihear temple, which both the countries claim as theirs.

The Thai and Cambodian governments are bracing for any backlash from the verdict by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the dispute had led to armed conflict between the countries in the past.

The 900-year-old temple, which has been a bone of contention for over a century, lies at the border of Cambodia and Thailand, and there are fears in the air the court order could trigger clashes.

Anticipating a fresh bout of violence following the ICJ ruling, troops of both the countries have been on the alert, the BBC reported.

A Reuters report said hundreds of villagers along Thailand's border have built bunkers for safety or fled their homes.

The Cambodian military chief had called an emergency meeting after Thai aircraft were seen flying low over the disputed land near the temple, but said no troop reinforcements have been brought to the temple.

The nationalist Thai Patriotic Network has made it clear that they would reject any judgment from the ICJ, the Nation reported.

Thai army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said security heads in both the countries were in close contact, but hinted at a possible combat situation in response to any hostile action.

"We are in constant communication with Cambodia to help maintain peace along the border but we are also prepared to back up our troops," said Prayuth.

"I can't sleep at night, I'm afraid of military clashes. I have to keep reminding myself where the bunker is," Reuters quoted a farmer, who lives only 2km away from the temple, as saying.

The temple dispute had worsened in 2011, resulting in cross-border shelling that killed at least 18 people.

In 1962, a UN verdict had handed the right over the temple to Cambodia, but did not issue a ruling on the land surrounding the temple.

This judgment had not gone down well with Thailand, but the issue was pushed to the sidelines as Cambodia was embroiled in a civil war well into the 1990s. .

With the restoration of political stability in recent years, the reclamation of the temple site cropped up in Cambodian agenda, while nationalist sentiments in Thailand remained strong.

The rift between the two countries over the site was rekindled when Cambodia won UNESCO World Heritage status for the temple in 2008. The prestige accorded to the temple by the heritage status put the site back in spotlight, following which both sides began to build up troops leading to several military clashes over the temple since then.

In 2011, Cambodia asked the ICJ to clarify the ruling over the Preah Vihear temple following cross-border fighting. This was expected to put an end to the ambiguity surrounding the full rights to the heritage site.

Even though the ICJ had ordered troops from both sides to leave, the border area surrounding the temple has remained tense since then.