“In wrapping up this editorial, I wish to say to any Thai who read this article that: the ownership of Preah Vihear is a fait accompli and that Thailand must accept the reality and the status quo. For the sake of Preah Vihear Thailand must stop being an obstacle to its listing on the World Heritage List. And Thailand must stop bullying Cambodia over Preah Vihear because Preah Vihear is a Cambodian affair, the same as Cambodia had not meddled in the affair and the management of the Phimai temple.”
I have refrained myself from making any comments regarding the Preah Vihear issue for sometimes now as I wanted to see how diplomacy takes its course. As diplomacy has already taken its course, I am perplexed to see how some sections of the Thai society, in particular the Thai Army and the Thai academic community, are still not satisfied with what the deal would give them, even though it is at the expense of the Cambodian territorial integrity.
From the Cambodian perspective, one would argue that Cambodia has been short-changed when it agreed to list only the temple, leaving the surrounding areas as disputed zones. And from a Cambodian point of view, one must admit to the fact that the Cambodian agreement to list only a temple was a big mistake, as it is surrendering Cambodia‘s territorial integrity to a foreign country that has no legitimate right whatsoever to the temple‘s surrounding areas. As of late, we’ve heard for the first time that the Cambodian government, through its spokesperson, Mr. Phay Siphan, admitted that Thailand had indeed encroached into Cambodian territory. (Read the details here).
I am also dismayed to the fact that some foreign writers and media outlets have not been very factual and objective enough in their reportage of the Khmer-Thai tug-of-war over Preah Vihear. The recent Bo Hill’s presentation on Australia’s ABC Radio has been a classic example. While the presentation itself has been objective enough, from the point of view of a Cambodian, it is unfair. There are two sides to the story and while the presentation itself solicited the viewpoints from two Thai ‘experts’, it is regrettable that the program itself did not accord any viewpoints from the Cambodian side regarding the issue. One Thai expert, Vallibhotama, claimed that Preah Vihear was lying in a no-man’s land and he had called for a joint management of the temple. Such claim and such a twist of history is to Cambodia’s disadvantage without giving a right of reply from the Cambodian representative. (Full details here).
The ownership over Preah Vihear was clear cut from the start. The temple was built by a Khmer king in the 11th century. It remained under Cambodia’s sovereignty until in 1940 when, during World War II and under the protection of the Japanese occupying forces, Thailand laid claims to the ownership of the temple. When Japan was defeated in 1946Thailand had returned all Cambodian territories it occupied during the war, except the Preah Vihear temple. In 1949 the French colonial rulers of Cambodia requested the return of Preah Vihear but Thailand refused. And in 1959 Cambodia launched a legal suit in the International Court of Justice in the Hague and in 1962 the court adjudicated to give the ownership of Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia. And without twisting the history, Preah Vihear was and is always under Cambodian ownership (For full details click here).
From a historical point of view and from a good neighbour‘s perspective, the ownership should not be an issue and contested. So, it is a sad episode so see this saga dragged on for so long at the expense of Preah Vihear.
The Thai grandstanding, or what I called the Thai-tanic bullying, in the last few months, is nothing short of dishonesty. First, Thailand said that it would not oppose the listing of Preah Vihear in its entirety and then back-flipped. Later, it said that it will only agree to the listing if only the temple is listed. Now that the agreement has been reached and that the new map, or ‘drawing’ as the Cambodian government would like to call it, has been drawn and presented to the Thai side to verify, some sections of the Thai society, particularly the Thai Army and within the Thai academic circle, made their views known. This is a Thai-tanic, or titanic, shift in behaviours that would cause irreversible mistrusts from the Cambodian side in future dealings.
The Thai Army’s tactics was to stall or to foot-drag the listing of the temple by using a pretext of a Cambodian encroachment as a stumbling block. Cambodia, as a weak side and ravaged by 30 years of war, would have no capability to encroach on a powerful neighbour such as Thailand. If Cambodia had encroached, as the Thai Army had claimed, it would be on the former Cambodian lands that have been encroached previously by Thailand.(Details here).
And then the bomb has been dropped. An ex-Thai diplomat, Sompong Sucharitkul, raises a possibility of reclaiming Preah Vihear by arguing that Thailand has never recognised the decision of the International Court in The Hague. From a Cambodian perspective, the possibility of Thailand’s reclaiming Preah Vihear would never happen. Not in Thailand’s wildest dream. (Details here).
In wrapping up this editorial, I wish to say to any Thai who read this article that: the ownership of Preah Vihear is a fait accompli and that Thailand must accept the reality and the status quo. For the sake of Preah Vihear Thailand must stop being an obstacle to its listing on the World Heritage List. And Thailand must stop bullying Cambodia over Preah Vihear because Preah Vihear is a Cambodian affair, the same as Cambodia had not meddled in the affair and the management of the Phimai temple.