Who owns the historic Preah Vihear Temple – Cambodia or Thailand? Both countries are asserting ownership rights over the temple which led to a border clash last week. Several soldiers were killed and wounded during the fighting.
Both countries have since then agreed to talk. But the problem is far from resolved. Thailand is prepared to evacuate its citizens from Cambodia. Villagers on the Cambodian side of the disputed territory are fleeing. Their livelihoods have been affected. Thai companies in Cambodia are worried too.
What is the root of the conflict? It is definitely more than just a desire to own four square kilometers of land. Protest actions against Thailand’s government are still continuing. Is the Preah Vihear controversy a tactic to “divert attention (of Thai citizens) in times of troubles”?
Many of Thailand’s problems today are blamed on ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. What is his role in the Preah Vihear issue? Apparently, he has business interests in Cambodia. PAD's Facts Info reports:
“Former Thai Prime Minister and business tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra has recently signed an official deal with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to allegedly develop the Cambodia’s south-western maritime province of Koh Kong. Thaksin wants to secure very convenient Cambodian-based facilities to prepare his political power comeback in Thailand. The current tension between Cambodia and Thailand about Preah Vihear temple is in part due to false assurances given by Thaksin to Hun Sen in the past about border delineation.”
The writer also adds that the Preah Vihear dispute will affect future discussions on other border issues between Thailand and Cambodia:
“But neither of the countries can afford to lose any of this land. This is not only because the area carries with it the issue of territorial sovereignty, which no modern state can bear to lose, but also because the final fate of the area could signify the future of other overlapping areas still to be demarcated, particularly those in the sea.”
The Preah Vihear fighting may also be about a struggle for the oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand. Brendan Brady and Thet Sambath explain:
“Thailand and Cambodia both assert claims over some 27,000 square kilometres of disputed maritime territory in the Gulf of Thailand that is believed to contain significant amounts of oil and gas reserves.
“The expanse of water known as the Overlapping Claims Area has been the source of a contentious, decades-old dispute with Thailand but has gained a new imperative amidst the current border crisis.
“Since the border dispute erupted, suspicions have intensified that by asserting control over Preah Vihear, Cambodia is angling to improve its claims over the disputed offshore block.”
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is also using the Preah Vihear issue to ask for more military funds. And the renewed conflict between the two countries fits into Hun Sen’s “development objectives” for Preah Vihear.
What are the reactions of several Thailand-based bloggers? Gnarly Kitty reacts:
“WTF? A war? Over a land? In 21st Century? Two guys were killed already. That's it. We're reverting.”
A mosaic through my eyes, a foreign student, observes:
“Thai nationalists are burning over the border with Cambodia. Thailand is doing what it can to prevent a ‘loss of face’ to Cambodia.”
Chinesethai leaves a comment in the blog of Thailand Crisis. The reader criticizes the Thai army:
“I think army leadership is also important. You can see that each conflict involves not only gunfire but also information war. While the Cambodian officials give numerous interviews almost on an hourly basis to foreign presses, we rarely hear anything from the Thai army. All we learn is from the media.”
The Nation's State blames “dangerous racist nationalism”:
“Nationalism is a poison. It might not have always been so as nations across Southeast Asia fought off the yoke of colonial oppression by harnessing the power of nationalism.
“But it is a poison now that has reached such critical mass in Thailand that issues like the border conflict over Preah Vihear with Cambodia and the festering southern insurgency are perpetuated by Thai nationalism.
“Essentially, close minded nationalists have prevented rational discourse on what Thailand is and who it represents to such an extent that the ability of the country to deal with conflict – like Phreah Vihear and the southern Insurgency – in a rational way is severely challenged.”
The blogger also mentions the strengths and limitation of international law to resolve the conflict:
“What remains as a salient indicator of adherence to international law is that Thailand, with its vastly larger and technologically superior army, has not simply annexed the temple during this latest confrontation. There are certainly other mitigating factors, such as trade and tourism disruptions, that might make Cambodia and Thailand reluctant to engage in armed conflict yet international law’s calming influence and dispute mechanisms are not just working to ease the conflict but defining the very parameters of the argument. The true test though will not only be to see if armed conflict can be avoided but will be to see a lasting resolution that will prevent future conflict between the two sovereign nations.”