Rising serious tension between Cambodia and Thailand started when UNESCO, on July 7, 2008, declared temple of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site. The 11th century temple has long been a subject to dispute between the two nations; in 1962, Hague-based International Court of Justice ruled that the ancient Hindu temple belonged to Cambodia, a decision opposed by many Thais.
As the news of the inscription of Cambodia's 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple announced by the World Heritage Committee early this month in Quebec, Canada, a large number of text messages were sent via cellphone to share the exciting news during the midnight (Phnom Penh time).
People of the two countries witness the power of pride and nationalism, again, particularly at the time that Cambodia heading to national election on July 27 and that Thailand is struggling with her own internal politic.
Not surprisingly, as the world is more connected, at least virtually, Thai and Cambodian citizens begin their discussions on the Internet for the first time. A post of link with title “Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia,” appeared on Global Voices Online on June 24, attracted 70 comments (at the time of writing this post).
Nationalism versus Rationalism
Somongkol Teng, a former Fulbright scholar, proudly announced the official news of the newly inscribed temple on his blog, which has attracted a number of comments from his readers, including people in neighboring country Thailand.
A comment left by a Thai citizen, who identifies as Tavorn Kamboonreang, on Somongkol's blog post, has led to a long, heated discussion.
On July 10, 2008, Tavorn commented:
Dear Khamen(Cambodian) Neighbors,
You think you win the Preah Vihear World Heritage now but soon you will see that you lost because UNESCO will send 7 nations including Thailand to “invade” your country. UNESCO ripped our two countries apart by siding with you and your foxy politicians. You know where you belong. Look at Phnom Penh which was built to model after Bangkok by King Narodom who lived and worked in Bangkok under Thai Royal Patronage for years. Rejoice now but be prepared to get back to be under Thailand’s protection again because you need to be where you belong. I am your Thai neighbor and it’s my duty to help you get back to your good sense. Remember who help you when your country was under the Khmer Rouge-Pol Pot and your refugees had nowhere else to run to but Thailand. Please take care and be grateful.
Does an individual opinion reflect the Thai society in general? Thai native Isriya Paireepairit, a technology columnist for a number of Thai newspapers and magazines, wrote a post on the issue in Thai language (he also provides translation here) that:
I quoted the follow up article by Dr. Charnvit Kasetsiri. He stated that Preah Vihear is definitely belonged to Cambodia from both historical-archaeological and legal. The Thai claim (geological) has never been supported by World Court.
Another blog post of his deals with one of his friends, who lives in the United Kingdom. Isriya asked an interesting question in response to a campaign running by his friend who wants to claim back Preah Vihear temple for Thai citizens.
I quoted my conversation with my Thai friend (I'm living in UK at the moment) to demonstrate the general public's view on this incident. This friend now wants to “bring back Preah Vihear” to Thai people. I question them as ‘is Preah Vihear really belonged to us? (So we can
get it back). I also quote Thongchai Winichakul, a famous Southeast Asian History Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He wrote an article about nationalist. The title can be translated as “Preah Vihear will be yet another racism timebomb”
Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Several thousand people gathered at Wat Phnom to celebrate the day. Savada Khmer [in PDF], a song composed by Samdech Sangha Raja Jhotañano Chuon Nath (1883 -1969).
Savada Khmer translated into English
All Khmers, please remember the root and history of our great country
Our boundary was wide and well known
Others always thought highly of our race
And always placed our race as the elders.
We have great heritage and culture
Which has spread far and wide in the Far East.
Religion, arts and education,
Music, philosophy and strategies are all that we have spread.
All Khmers, please remember our roots and history
Which speaks of the grandeur of our great race
Make up your mind and body and try hard to rebuild
In order to lift the value of our nation
To once again rise to the greatness that we once had.
Is the power of nationalism as strong as the power of love? So far, at least two public events organized in the Cambodian capital to celebrate the important event as well as to reclaim the so called ‘unity’ for the country. Donations have been made, largely by Phnom Penh-based business people, to help military at the Cambodian-Thai border. Cambodian journalism lecturer Moeun Chhean Nariddh takes a look at the history of nationalism used in the mainstream media to fight against French colonialism, then the Chinese and Vietnamese dominance. The opinionated media trainer wrote an op-ed to a daily newspaper that:
…Nevertheless, the media’s role in promoting nationalism is not new. The pioneer of Cambodian media started the first Khmer-language newspaper in 1936 with the explicit mission to promote nationalism and engage in Cambodia’s struggle for independence from French colonial rule. A nationalistic Cambodian press appeared first to challenge French rule, then the Chinese and Vietnamese dominance in Cambodia’s economy and politics, and also American “imperialism,” until the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975.
Richard, an observer and blogger at Connecting the Dots, wrote a blog post that the current Thai government, under-fired for it first supported Cambodian government in getting the temple listed, which it later withdrew due to an injunction issued by Thailand's Administrative Court to suspend any move endorsing Cambodia's bid to list the ancient temple as UNESCO's World Heritage site:
Although the court ruled against Thailand, many Thais never accepted the ruling in their hearts. As a result the signing of the documents between Thailand and Cambodia was all it took to set this off. Thailand’s ruling party the People Power Party (PPP) is under attack for a variety of reasons, this signing became just another avenue of attack. The signing was ruled to be in violation of the Thai constitution in that parliament was excluded. The reputation of the PPP of not caring about laws, rules and the Thai people and now also being seen as very possibly giving up Thai soil to Cambodia has set this nationalism movement in motion. This has lead to escalation of conflict ant the site of the temple with both Thai and Cambodian military on the scene. There is no doubt to outsiders that the temple issue is being used as leverage to force this apparently useless Thai government out.
In an article appeared in Bangkok-based Prachatai, an independent online newspaper, Harrison George discusses the history (including what led to an anti-Thai-riot in 2003) of the two countries, both are members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
And now our ignorance of Thailand’s history is threatening relations with Cambodia. We’ve seen this before. In 2003, in the run up to Cambodian elections, actress Suvanant Kongying was falsely reported in the Cambodian press (possibly by a rival company to the Mistine cosmetics she was fronting for) as saying that Angkor Wat should be given back to Thailand. ‘Given back’, because it had been stolen from Thailand by the Cambodians.
The Khmers, whose schoolbooks seem to be as nationalistically one-sided as everyone else’s, got understandably irate about this. But so did the Thais. When the news was breaking I was told by 2 Thais who had the benefit of a university education, that Suvanant’s alleged statement was so obviously untrue it must have been fabricated. I asked what they meant. Cambodia couldn’t have ‘stolen’ Angkor Wat from Thailand, they explained, because Thailand had never occupied it.
Live update from Preah Vihear province:
I've just received an update from Geffrey Cain, our Contributing Author, who is currently is Preah Vihear province to cover the news. Here is his message sent to me on July 20, 2008:
Writing from the Thai-Cambodia border where I'm covering the dispute. Needless to say, things out here are incredibly tense. Yesterday we had a major stand-off between Thai and Cambodian soldiers at a pagoda, where they raised their guns at each other and threatened to fire. Today the Thai military has deployed cannons facing our position.
Nice post, Tharum.
One wrong point, it’s me who live in the UK at the moment, not my friend who is still in Thai.
Excellent idea Tharum for reposting Khmer and Thai comments on Global Voices so the world can read and be the judge.
Thais aren’t capable to debate on any issue with Khmers, all they can say to Khmer are; Why don’t the KR kill all of you Khmers, Khmer dogs, Thailand helped you Khmers, Khmer beggars etc….
And I keep telling Thais that Thais never helped Khmers, but to destroy Khmers. Thai soldiers killed Khmer refugees in the 79-80 and today Thais are trying to rob Khmer temple and its area and claim belonging to Thailand. Thailand committed crime against humanity just like the KR did and no one is taking Thailand to court for its crime yet.
We always thought that Thais are well-educated, soft, democrat, and good neighboring country; but what we have pproved was completely wrong.
We can obviously see through the Thai citizens behavior that they are a unlimited greedy damn things in the world. From the past history until now, they want not only Preah Vihea temple, but also Angkor Wat temple that was built before the Siam had captured and created the state in 16 century. They have no evident to show the world that those heritages in Cambodia belong to them that why they has the only way to prove is the arm force and war. I am one of the Cambodia citizens want to tell all greedy Siam that \Please Read and Understand More about The History Before Doing Such a Stupid Thing\
However, there is only one way for all Thai citizens that can obtain the right owning all heritages in Cambodia. The history showing that Angkor Wat and many other temples were built by Cambodia kings and their people, and on June 15, 1962, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had made a judgment on the merits the Court, by nine votes to three, found that the Temple of Preah Vihear was situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia and, in consequence, that Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw any military or police forces, or other guards or keepers, stationed by her at the Temple, or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory. The Cabinet of the time made a resolution and announced that Thailand, as a member of the United Nations, accepted the ICJ ruling. As a Khmer citizen, I am very proud to say, for example, Preah Vihea temple is mine, so we have the legitimate right to own these heritages. If Thai people want to do like us, they should dissolve their country, their culture, and other Thai identity. Then intergrade the Thai territory with Cambodia, so there is no more Thia country in the world map. Next, fulfill all conditions that stated in Cambodia Constitution in order to get the Khmer citizenship. As the result, all Thai citizens will become Khmer citizens, and they automatically have right to own all heritages in Cambodia as local Khmer citizens. It is a good idea, I think. All Thai people should consider about this opinion.
Pich, I agree with you. what Thais, aka Siam, are acting and claiming Preah Vihear is like child without ashame. Siam, you have to read more and more deeply the history. Preah Viear is really belonging to Cambodians, and Cambodia. You, Siam, did not understand the rule by the International court of justice in 1962? you do that like the crazy person. Damnnn Siam.
Dear All and Thai friends,
Thai people should learn and understand the real history.
Military force can never make any better for Thai, but will bring only internationally shame for them. I said with lovely heart for Thai as a neighbor, you should not make thing more serious by your military force on our land (it is your rights if it is just on your land, but what you are doing is already a dispute friend!). Try to think well or research more before you write or said something before it become a stupid sound. Another thing, Thai should learn to keep promise and not just to speak out and change at anytime, because it is a bad behavior.
Both of us would not want violent solution, I think Thai should consider well again on this issue. The special thing is that Thai himself should learn to respect rights of the other country too.
It is a good will from me, Thai should learn the history again and stop any more damn activities. I hope Thai people can understand and we can find a good and fair solution on this.
Good article, Tharum.
By the way, in case you don’t know, I found these two sites about Preah Vihear news interesting for you guys to keep updated with the news:
– http://preahvihear.wordpress.com (text news)
– http://preahvihearnews.wordpress.com (image/video news)
The hot event which was the key point while only one week left, the Cambodian national election will be held for the fourth term. We, Cambodian, hold a grudge and do hate Thai invasion, considering as Thai army force’s invasion over Cambodia territory at Preah Vihear temple is a shameful activity and hatred ! Thai army force’s invasion is to violate the international law and to demonstrate over sovereignty and territory invasion of the neighbor country. Thai army force warmed as their barbaric activities over UNESCO and threatened to the membership country of this organization which has listed Preah Vihear temple as the world heritage . Thai army force seems not to know that all of their commissions like that can cause Thailand, which is a developed country and has a good relationship with the neighbor country, to be disgraced.
Do all of their activities only just want to swallow the ancient temple or look down on a neighbor country? Preah Vihear temple, which is our Khmer ancestor’s treasure, contructed luxuriously since 9 centuries and it is our Khmer culture civilization and for general humanization, is now being threatened barbarically from Thai army force. We are Cambodian-young generation would like to swear and determine to protect our territory and fight back all their invasion in which ways it is and well-maintain our ancient treasure forever.
It’s hilarious about the Thai govt.flip flop :)
When Cambodia reported that Thai soldier bandits violated the Khmer territory, the Thai govt refused to admit it and kept saying that those Thai soldiers were not inside the Khmer soil, but on the Thai soil. And then, a Thai solider who couldn’t read the landmine sign in Khmer and in English “Dangerous mine” he stepped on the landmine inside of Cambodia and blew up himself losing a leg.
The Thai govt continued to ignore that and when the world press asked the Thai govt, so Thais put the mine inside the Thai soil to blow up their own soldier????
A few days ago, the Thai press reported that the Thai separatists in south declared the end of fighting against the Thai govt…..
And today, there is an explosion in south of Thailand injured ten Thai police officers and a villagerin responded to the Thai press that made up the false info….