Relationship Between Cambodia And Thailand Over The Temple

Cambodia and Thailand are the neighboring country. Historically, the relation of the both country sometime become good and bad due to the border and Temple issues. We can see that the most sensitive issue is about temple. As we already know last several year ago, there was a prominent Thai actress said that Cambodia had stolen Angkor Wat from Thailand. The comment had triggered anger of nationalists of Cambodia to burn the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and a number of Thai-owned businesses (Cambodia-Thailand Relation, 2003) After the event, the ties between the two countries become bad again following the ties of both countries had been restored since 1980s. The relation become well after Cambodia government had apologized to Thailand and promised to pay for damage to Thailand. On 2006 and 2007, Cambodia wants to admitted Preah Vihea Temple as a world heritage, however Thailand who is a member of UNESCO had successfully blocked Cambodia’s effort on the ground that a 4.6 square kilometer land around the temple’s compound is still subjected to dispute. Thailand forgets about the ICJ decision on June 15, 1962 which ruled by the international court that “the temple of Preah Vihea is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” (Temple of Preah Vihear (Merits) (JUDGM. OFI5 VI62)) which is made by nine to three of ICJ’s members. After knowing this Cambodia had submitted ICJ decision to UNESCO to examine. Then, UNESCO had decided to admit Preah Vihea Temple as a world heritage on July 8, 2008 at Quebec, Canada, although Thailand disagreed to UNESCO decision. Until now, Thailand keep insisting and claiming that the 4.6 square meter of land around the temple is belonged to Thailand. The confrontation between the two countries become worse and worse, when Thailand sent her troops to station at pagoda in the compound of the temple on July 15, 2008. Starting from that time, Thailand sent her military to station at other location such as Veal Intry, Ta Mon and Ta Krobey Temple. So, to response to the skeptical, I will tell you about the history of Cambodia and Thailand relationship, and then you will know who Siam (Thai) is. Who built the Temple? Why ICJ decided that Preah Vihea Temple is belonged to Cambodia? And at the end I will propose kind of options should Cambodia take to solve the conflict.

History of Khmer and Thai Relation

Preah Vihea Temple was built at the early of the 9th century and was continued building during the reign of king Suryavarman I (1002-1050). Then, finished the construction at the reign of king Suryavarman II (1113-1150). The first Suryavarman built this temple in the attempt of dedicating to Hindu god called Shiva and the Second Suryavarman continued to build the temple for celebrating religious festival and making a gift for his aged spiritual barman advisor named Divakaraprandita (Ancient History). The Temple was built on the top cliff of Dongrek Mountain which has the height of 525 meter. During that time, Khmer kingdom was prosperous and powerful for three century before the emergence of Sukhothai Kingdom(Preah Vihear Temple: Politico-historical Case Study and Nationalism by Chanvit Kasetsiri. p2). Around 9 to 10th century, Tai/Siam who was a tribe of China which was left from the execution of Mongol when Mongol invaded into China territory, had migrated to Khmer territory by asking to serving Khmer kingdom as “slave” ( A Short History: Thailand by David K. Wyatt. p. 10-25), in the return of living in Khmer territory. Khmer king who has a kind to Tai/Siam tribe had allowed them to live in Khmer territory and also join in military to help protecting the territory from invasion of neighboring countries. Khmer king kindly gave reward to Tai tribe by nominating some of them as leader of military and chief of district or borei (province) and allowed them to married with daughters of Khmer elite. But later on, when the Kingdom of Khmer fall weak due to domestic and external disputes, Tai took a chance liberate from the control of Khmer and then fight capturing some population and land to be their property. Tai started fighting and capture some population and land from Mon, Burma, Vietnam and Khmer through its military expedition. Until at the early of 13thcentury, Tai leader named Phu Moung nominated himself as a King of Sukhothai and coronation as a royal name called Sri Indraditya. So according to the historical which I mentioned above exposed that Khmer and Tai had a bitter relationship. However, there still be more bitter and bitter than this which has been started from 1352 to present. The Khmer kingdom seriously begun its decline when Sri Sothonpura known as Angkor Thom or Sri Yasodharapura which is the foundation of Khmer kingdom had been invaded three times by Tai- first by King U Thong in 1369, secondly by king Ramesuan in 1388/9 and finally by king Choa Sam Praya in 1431. During that period of time Khmer started to loss its territory, including Preah Vihea Temple as well, to Siam gradually,such as Battambang, Siem Riep, Mongkol Borei, and Serei Sophorn as well as Preah Vihea Temple. In 1814 there were more provinces had been fought and captured by Tai Such as Mlou Prei, Toul LorPeo, and Stoeng Treng, (History of Siamese and Thai Occupation) all the provinces were annexed to Siam but Siam had no intention to colonize the provinces or convert Khmer citizens into Siamese because most of these citizens still communicated each other by speaking Khmer language and using Khmer custom. Until 1907, King Rama V signed the Franco-Siam treaty with the President of France. Under the treaty, Siam require to return to Cambodia some province such as Battambang, Serei Sophorn, Mongkul Borei, Siem Riep and Preah Vihea Temple in exchange of some of Siam’s provinces which were occupied by France such as Chantaburi, Trat and Dan Sai in Loei. We also should remind that most of Cambodia territory which were seized by Siam before 1790, now become the territory of Siam such as Reachborei (Korat), Boreirom (Buriram), Sorit (Surin),Korkan, Sisaket, Bascemborei (Prachin buri), Chantaborei (Chantaburi), Champasak and Trat. From 1941 to 1944, we see that Siam still not abandoned its ambition to swallow Cambodia territory. To claim its property, Siam captured some provinces of Cambodia again while France fallen weak. Siam shown its stubborn act to France because of Siam had a support from Japan. But later on Japan lost World War II, and then Siam returned the provinces to Cambodia.

We see that the dispute always erected from the misunderstanding of history of a nation or it might be due to their understanding, but they tempt to not understand or recognize their history because of the ambition or behavior of the nation always wish to swallow or suck the neighboring countries. To eliminate its embarrassment, Thai had tried to distort or impure its history according to Thai Nationalist Newspaper, ChaoThai, on 31, October, 1959 stated that the real Khmer had been killed by Tai and the rest of Khmer were chased away and retreated to India (The Thai’s Unique View of Khmer People and History, by Touch Bora, 1999). And Khmer nowadays living in Cambodia are Thai Krom “lower land Thai”. Another, to hide the brutal act of its king, Siam translated that King Naresuan did not behead Khmer king, named Satha who took chance to attack Ayuthaya from the east, by taking blood to wash his feet. Thai historians tried to make a correction that Khmer king named Satha had fled and taken refuge in Laos. With other negative perspective, Thai educated its people to hate Khmer king named Sihanou who is considered by Cambodian as a hero or a savior who fought to preserve Khmer’s sovereignty in response to the aggressor-Thai who intents of seizing control of Cambodia by raising a question that “what color (Si) do Thai people hate?” The answer is neither red (Si Deng) or black (Si Dam) but their answer is Si-hanouk (Cambodia-Thailand: Love Hate Relationship (Khom-Khamen flawed history). On other hand, Thai next generation thinks that Preah Vihea Temple is theirs because the stairway for climbing to the temple is at the Thai side. Anyway Thai educated their next generation that the province of Battambang, Siem Riep, Serei Sophon, Sisophun, Stoeng Treng as well as Preah Vihea Temple is theirs. These acts underscore to see that Thai raised their heart and ambition to swallow Cambodia territory for long. Now, Thai took Preah Vihea Temple and land around the temple issue as its political hostages. Although everyone in the world knew that Preah Vihea belongs to Cambodia through the ICJ’s decision, Thai still raise the issue as their problem, including the border. Next, we will know on what criteria why ICJ judged that Preah Vihea Temple is belonged to Cambodia.

International Court of Justice’s Decision

Before making discussion about the International Court of Justice’s decision, I would like to review about what France had left for Cambodia when France took control over Cambodia’s territory for nearly a century. We got both advantage and disadvantage from France’s colonization. The disadvantage is that France had ceded the eastern territory of Cambodia (Kampuchea Krom) to Vietnam, whereas the advantage is that France tried her best to protect the western territory of Cambodia from the invasion and occupation of Siamese through war and Franco-Siam treaty which was made in 1904 and 1907. The 1904 treaty was conducted for the purpose of delimitating the frontier of Preah Vihea Temple, situated over the top mountain of Dongrek. At the meeting on 1906 was held to set the procedure of delimitation of frontier by Fanco-Siamese Mixed commission. They agreed to demarcate the Dongrek mounts range by following the watershed line. Siamese supposed that the procedure would offer benefits to her. In 1907, Siam had no adequate specialists of mapping; therefore, Siam had requested a France team of mixed commission to map the frontier region for her and these maps was completed in the autumn of 1907. Among the maps showed that Preah Vihea Temple was on the Cambodia side. Siam not only shown any reaction on the demarcation of the maps but also gave thanks to France minister in Bangkok for the maps. After France re-ceded independence to Cambodia in 1954, France administrations and troops withdrawn from Cambodia, as Cambodia was being reconstruction her country, Siam took the chance to send her troops to occupy Preah Vihea Temple in 1954. At that time, Cambodia had sent several diplomatic notes to Thai for seeking a bilateral negotiation but Thai seem ignorant of Cambodia’s suggestion, until 1958 Thai agreed to held bilateral negotiation with Cambodia in Bangkok, however the negotiation was failed. One more time, in a gesture of keeping friendship with Thai, Cambodia is willing to put the Temple under joint administration, but Thai still not reply. Then in 1959, after Cambodia had reunited, Cambodia had protested the presence of Siam forces on the Preah Vihea Temple which is situated in the Cambodia sovereignty and asked the ICJ to rule that the Temple and the surrounding land lay in Cambodia’s territory. During that time, the diplomatic relationship of both countries become severe and severe and the threat of using forces by both countries were voiced because both Governments contended and claimed that the Temple and surrounding land are theirs. One point that ICJ can have competent over the case, if the both Governments voluntarily agreed to file their case to the International Court of Justice. At that time, the Case defender of Cambodia at Hague was the former U.S secretary of State, his name is Dean Acheson, whereas the defender of Thai was a former British attorney general, his name is Sir Frank Soskice. At the first hearing of ICJ on March 1962, Cambodia asked the Court to rule on five following submissions:

“To judge that the map which was demarcated by the mixed Delimitation is enforceable and binding for the both parties;”

“To judge that the disputed region was marked on the map of the Commission of Delimitation between Indo-China and Siam (Annex I to the Memorial of Cambodia;”

“To judge and declare that the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of the Kingdome of Cambodia;”

“To judge and declare that Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw all kinds of armed forces which is situated in the Temple”

“To judge and declare that Thailand is under an obligation to send back to Cambodia any ancient objects which had been removed from the Temple by Thai authorities since 1954″( ICJ Reports 1962, p.11)

In its response at the Court hearing, Thai objected to the five submissions but I would like to rise up two important points that Thai took excuse to rebut about the Annex I map as the following:

The Annex I map was not published on behalf of the Mixed Commission, but was prepared by French faction of the Mixed Commission alone and published only in the name of French faction

No decision of the Mixed Commission was recorded about the boundary at Preah Vihear.

Before talking about the decision of ICJ, I would like to remind all of you that the Court proceedings did not focus on the question of whose cultural heritage is or on which state was the successor to the Khmer Empire. These mean that the ICJ didn’t care about who are the builders or successor of the Temple, the ICJ’s competent is to find out that what Thai objected is provable true or not. So following to what Thai mentioned above, the ICJ had to scrutinized the map and found out that Thailand exactly adopted the maps. There were four evidences that the Court pointed out as follow:

Siam’s official wide circulation of the Map,

Siam asked France for more copies

The ignorance of Siamese members of the Mixed Commission to reject the map

The ignorance of the governor Khukhan province (Now Si Saket) to object to the Map

From these facts, the ICJ had make conclusion that Thailand had acquiesced and accepted the Annex I map. Even there were any skeptical in this connection, Thailand was never precluded from asserting that she had not accepted it. Thailand had for more than fifty years enjoyed some benefits as the Treaty of 1904 had conferred on her. Therefore, on 15 June 1962, The Court ruled that:

“The Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia;”

“Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw any forces stationed by the Temple, or in its vicinity on Cambodia territory;”

“Thailand is under an obligation to restore to Cambodia any ancient objects have been removed from the Temple or the Temple area by the Thai authorities since the date of the occupation in 1954;”( ICJ Reports 1962, p.36, p37)

The First and Second provisions were ruled by 9 to 3 votes and the Third provisions were ruled by 7votes to 5votes of the 12 ICJ members. After ICJ decision, Thai reacted angrily but later on Thai backed down and agreed to fulfill the obligation at the end of 1962. In January 1963, Cambodia had held the formally ceremony of taking back the Temple and surrounding land as her possession.

Cambodia’s Option:

After the Preah Vihear Temple was judged as under the sovereignty of Cambodia by the International Court of Justice, Thai feels not satisfied with the ICJ’s decision. Thai also feels not confidence in the U.S.A about the candidacy of the U.S.A former secretary of state who represented as a defender for Cambodia side and supported for the temple being under the sovereignty of Cambodia. At that time, Thai threatened to boycott meetings of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization with the United States. However, The United States denied that Mr.Dean Acheson was not a representative of the United States’ administration. He did his private job as a defender for Cambodia. We also saw that Thai had made demonstration on the street to protest to the decision of the International Court of Justice but later on Thailand agreed to follow the judgment of ICJ. Since that time, we thought that Thailand is a civilized nation would obey the international law and will be willing to cede the temple and land around the temple to Cambodia. In contrast, Thailand had clearly shown her ambitious over the Cambodia’s temple of Preah Vihear, according to a report, which made by Prince Norodom Konthol, then minister of ministry of foreign affair, about Thai’s invasion over the temple and land around the temple in 1966(Rasmei Kampuchea Daily Newspaper,2011). Recently, Thailand keeps continuing her ambitious to capture Cambodia’s territory when Cambodia requested the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to admit the temple of Preah Vihear as a world heritage. At that time, we saw Thailand had played tricks, firstly to block Cambodia at the UNESCO meeting and secondly to send its several people to protest at the temple’s compound, then sent her troops in the compound to protect her people, while Cambodia’s forces tried to remove them from the temple’s compound. On 7 July 2008, the confrontation between Cambodia and Thailand grew stronger and stronger until the arm clash occurred for many times (Cambodian- Thai border dispute, 2008). So to effectively solve the confrontation, there are three options that Cambodia needs to choose are:

Bilateral negotiation: is a talk which both conflict parties are consent to put together their problem on the desk to find out the mutual interest peacefully by themselves without any involvement of third party in observing or solving the dispute. The bilateral talk can process successfully whenever both parties are willing to solve their problem and feel trust in each other. However, the bilateral talk will become a tool for a powerful country like Thailand to use forces over a small one like Cambodia to accept what it doesn’t want and if the small country tried to reject the offering, the powerful country will use force like military power over the small one. So, the parties of bilateral talk will be easy to go to war because they have no balance of power, anyway the agreement of bilateral talk is not carried out fairly and enforceable because it has no power to enforce it. I mean that the small state will respect the agreement but the powerful one will not. Refer to this theory and practical, Cambodia do understand that the bilateral talk will be useless for Cambodia, that’s why Cambodia wants to file the case of Thailand’s invasion to the International Court of Justice and the United Nation of Security Council, since the first arm clash happened at Preah Vihear Temple on Oct. 2008 which claimed two lives of Cambodian soldiers. But Thailand requested to Cambodia for doing bilateral talk, so Cambodia wants to make friend with Thailand who is the neighboring country. The bilateral talk had been held from ministerial, General Commander, and to regional level but the efforts were failure because Thailand who is the powerful country always broke the agreement of the talk. As we already knew, since the confrontation occurred Cambodia and Thai had held a bilateral talk for several times but the agreement which is the result of the talks always had been violated by Thai side and the talk cannot help relieving the tensions of both parties. Furthermore, the failures of the talk have claimed many lives and properties of both sides; infrastructure had been destroyed, people had been evacuated to safety place, schools had been closed and border which is a business path for both citizens of the both countries had been closed especially the damage of the Preah Vihear Temple which is a heritage of the world (Cambodian- Thai border dispute, 2008). Through these events, Cambodia had been patient for two years to solve the problem with Thailand peacefully by bilateral talk, although Thailand tried to trigger war with Cambodia. Any way this is the first step that Cambodia needs to do, if not so, the UNSC will not urgent to intervention to the conflict because the first mechanism is that the both countries have to choose the bilateral diplomacy in advance. So, now it time for Cambodia to choose another option to solve the conflict which is more efficient than bilateral talk is multilateral talk.

Multilateral Talk: This negotiation needs third party to participate in the talk between Cambodia and Thailand because the bilateral talk cannot solve the dispute. So it is right that Cambodia decided to reject the bilateral talk by appealing for help from the third party such as UNSC or ASEAN. As we already knew after the war happened at the border between Cambodia and Thailand on 04 to 07 Feb. 2011, Cambodia decided to file the case to UNSC for intervening to the conflict. Because the clash had been used heavy weapon, therefore Cambodia proclaimed to the UNSC to urgently call for its members to join in the meeting. For the conflict now become to war. Anyway Cambodia has asked the UNSC for issuing a statement on permanent cease-fire between the two countries. And UNSC also transfer the duty of multilateral talk to ASEAN to help in solving the conflict. This duty will promote the image of ASEAN on the international stage because ASEAN had never accomplished this task since the creation of ASEAN. If ASEAN solve the problem successfully, its members would feel more confident in the ability of ASEAN and the purpose of ASEAN to become one will be achieved.

International Court: Simultaneously, in case of ASEAN cannot solve the problem. Cambodia can request the International Court of Justice to interpret its decision and ask for UNSC to enforce the ICJ decision; because UNSC is a law enforcement organ of UN. It has duty as a judicial police. So,This organ will use a coercive diplomacy to force Thai to implement the ICJ’s decision.


As we already knew Cambodia is a poor country and this country just emerged from the domestic chronic war for many decades, Cambodia just learns to recognize peace for a few years but the country has been facing hostility with its neighboring countries-Thailand which has both good and bad historical relation for centuries. I think that the confrontation can be solve if the recent Thai government and the yellow shirt groups stop taking their political issue to put on Cambodia’s temple and admit to recognize the truth that the temple and the land around the temple is under the sovereignty of Cambodia and agree to abide by the ICJ decision. If Thailand still put their problem on the temple, the conflict will not be finished forever. In addition, bilateral talk will be useless, because Thailand always signed and unilaterally write off the agreement when Thai think that it affected to Thai’s interest or when there is a criticism from yellow shirt group on the territory dispute. So the best way that can be finished the conflict is the participation of UNSC or ASEAN which is the powerful organ that can force both conflict parties to stop fighting and agreed to accept the ICJ’s interpretation or decision. Now these organizations are working their job. So we have to wait and see how they are going?

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