The real reasons behind the clash between Cambodia and Thailand
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Cambodia and Thailand are verging on war. It's thought that the bordering countries are fighting over a lost temple in the deep forest. Our Observer in Phnom Penh tells us what's really at stake...
Photo taken on the Preah Vihear temple site by "Pixellent".
Cambodia and Thailand are verging on war. It's thought that the bordering countries are fighting over a lost temple in the deep forest. Our Observer in Phnom Penh tells us what's really at stake.
Around the ancient Preah Vihear temple today, gunshots between Cambodian and Thai soldiers can be heard. Tensions between the countries have grown steadily worse over the past few months, until Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened on Monday to turn the area into "a life and death battle zone".
"The temple is just a smokescreen for wider problems"
Sok Phay Sean studied international relations in Singapore. He currently lives in Phnom Penh.
"This conflict isn't as simple as it seems. In 1962, the United Nations International Court of Justice decided that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia. But the temple is not really the real problem. What the Thai refuse to recognise, is the whole map of the region drawn up by the UN.
In effect there are two maps. One of them, dated 1904, was the basis of an agreement between France and Siam [former name of Thailand]. That one benefits the Thai. But there's also another, drawn up three years later by the French, which was used for the 1962 UN map. The question is: which of the two maps is correct? It's very important because 27,000km2 of ground rich in natural resources, particularly gas, changes hands depending on the border. So the temple is just a smokescreen for wider problems.
Between 1993 and 2003 relations between Thailand and Cambodia were good. But everything went downhill after there was a rumour going round in Phnom Penh that the Thai wanted to claim Angkor Wat, our most famous temple. Who knows where the rumour came from, but it had to find its way up to the political circles in Cambodia. At that time, in 2003, Thai businesses had quite a hold in Cambodia. It's possible that Hun Sen wanted to make Vietnamese integration a more favourable idea - as he has strong links with that country - by creating an anti-Thai feeling.
In general Cambodian people think that the conflict was started by the Thai military, and that fuels their nationalism. In my opinion, I think that an external mediator is needed. France, for example, could play a role, because Cambodia was one of their colonies and it was France that drew up the frontier agreements in 1904 and 1907. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also needs to intervene, to avoid both countries launching military offensives on each other."