Thailand/Cambodia: Conflict over Preah Vihear Temple (Part 1)

Both Thailand and Cambodia are claiming the historic Preah Vihear temple and the four square kilometers of territory near the shrine. There was a border clash in the area last Wednesday which killed two Cambodia soldiers and wounded seven Thai soldiers. The two countries are accusing each other of starting the fight.

The tension has not yet subsided since troop buildups are continuing. But there were good updates as well. Both sides are talking now and they initially agreed to conduct joint patrols in the area.

The Mirror provides a narrative of last Wednesday’s fighting. Global Voices author Tharum writes a backgrounder on the dispute. Andy Brouwer uploads an article by Milton Osborne. The author reviews the historical claims of the two countries on the territory. The author also highlights the political turmoil in Thailand as one of the likely factors which caused the escalation of the crisis a few months ago. The author adds:

“It represents yet another instance of a readiness of some Thais, whether politicians or ordinary citizens, to adopt and advance positions that seek to undermine what they see as irrelevant and irksome Cambodian interests.”

Sadchu believes Thailand is playing a “dangerous game”:

“What is Thailand doing? Is it trying to show off its military muscle? Thailand is getting close to the point of splitting the nation into two because of bad nationalism. With existing wound inside and being as a bad neighbor with all the countries around, Thailand is engaging herself with a dangerous game.”

Lything reminds both Thailand and Camdoia that “the rest of the world is watching”:

“Violence against people of another country to show that yours is superior to theirs is like the dumbest way to show patriotism. And by violence, I don't just mean wars; I meant any form of violence, including verbal. When people fight, they forget that the rest of the world is watching.”

someone – remaerd insists the fighting will not solve anything:

“I don’t want soldiers and people die, because it is the game of other people that they play with lives of innocent people. It is so sad historic event. The fighting, though continue till next year, will solve none of the issue of borders. People will die, soldiers will die, children will lose their father, wife will lose her husband, trade is down…”

Cambodia Calling observes that the border clash reminded residents of Khmer fighting in 1975:

“My Khmer landlord told me some Khmers have left Siem Reap to head south to the capital Phnom Penh and people have asked her, “Why are you still in Siem Reap, why aren't you running away?

“Obviously the war is still fresh in the minds of some Khmers and fighting anywhere in the country spooks them. They must be thinking of those days in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge won control of the countryside and instead of running away, people stayed in their homes in Phnom Penh, to disastrous consequences.”

The Mirror emphasizes that peace should be the only choice:

“To use force instead of negotiations on the current issue of disputed land – negotiations which have already been scheduled through mutual agreement – would also contradict international norms of settling bilateral issues through peaceful means, as the member countries of the United Nations have committed themselves. And to use force when negotiation is still possible ignores the bitter lessons of the many years of war in Cambodia’s history. If the choice is war or peace, the choice can only be peace.”

Bloggers are mourning the death of Cambodian soldiers. Preahchan is also sad:

“My deepest condolences for the Cambodian soldiers who died defending our Cambodia’s sovereignty from Thai invasion and aggression. May you rest in peace, and you will be always remembered. May God bless our brave soldiers, and may they win over the greedy invader. I condemn the Siem nation for their shameless invasion of my beloved country.”

My Khmerican Corner uploads an article by Sovatha Ann. The author believes the Preah Vihear territory is a site of shame for Thais rather than one of pride. Sacrava Toons provides us with political cartoons about the controversy.

(The second part of this article will feature the views of Thai bloggers).


  • S Burintrathikul

    I’m a Thai and taken aback by all or most of the comments that are so intolerably naive and ignorant about the situation taken place at the Thai-Cambodia border. Does anyone have any idea why Thailand needs to do anything with Cambodia at all? How can anyone believe anything uttered by such despot? I want to depict to anyone who cares to pursue facts not fictitious notions, as follows:

    1. Despite being the product of colonialism, the border conflict is something we have to live with. Anyone who takes the trouble of reading the International Court’s Verdict on Preach Vihear will clearly understand that only the temple was decided to belong to Cambodia, not the area surrounding it, and the map drawn by France (which then ruled Cambodia) was considered irrelevant by the Court. In spite of the Joint Border Contract agreed and signed by both countries since the year 2000 to resolve the border issue by renegotiating the designated boundaries all over again, Cambodia has disregarded it, despite various protests by Thailand, by constructing a road (by the construction firm owned by Hun Sen’s daughter) into the disputed area, This has actually been happening for years. The people’s movement like the Yellow Shirt in fact has criticized the Thai government of not doing enough to prevent Cambodia’s encroachment.

    2. But why on earth Cambodia wanted to do it at all? Hun Sen knows darn well that as a smaller country Cambodia always stands to gain, by having Thailand being looked upon as bullying a less developed neighbor, as the above comments show. He succeeded in this. He also wanted to elevate the issue to the international level like UN trusting that majority of the nations in the Permanent Security Council all have something to benefit from developing Preach Vihear into another world heritage site for tourism purposes. Underlying the issue is also because HunSen is pitifully powerless to deal with Vietnam in regard to the other side of the border which has been encroached by Vietnam. He thus wanted to twist the border issue to Thailand to turn Cambodians’ attention away from Vietnam.

    3. Economically, for you guys information, Cambodia is extremely dependent on Thailand. Trades at the border have grown very rapidly over the years as Cambodia does not have enough basic consumer products at cheap prices to feed their people. If you hear that goods from Vietnam can help fill up the gap, it is mostly exaggerated as Vietnam cannot even be self sufficient, a lot of products are imported from Thailand. Of course, China would want to have this piece of cake, but Cambodians have just got used to Thai products over the past several decades. Unfortunately for China also that most Chinese consumer goods are increasingly known to lack quality control that could cause hazard to consumers. And China would prefer to go after more valuable energy industry in Cambodia more than anything else. Do you think China would choose Cambodia instead of Thailand? Obviously no. Thailand is the only country in this region where Chinese have been assimilated well with the local Thais. China, which have many infrastructure development projects in the pipelines in Thailand, almost call Thailand their oversea Chinese. Besides, China would by no means want to be pushed to choose between the two. They always play the cards right.

    Please read the above carefully and change your mindset about Cambodia. Cambodians themselves are kind people. They just need a much less corrupt ruler who should govern to the best interest of their own people, rather than their cronies!

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