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Cambodian-Thai Border Conflict Benefits No-one

Preah_Vihear_Temple_Cambodia_Map

While the world’s attention is focused on the uprisings in the Middle East, a dormant border dispute is flaring up again on the Thai-Cambodian border around the historic Preah Vihear Temple complex. Built on a 1700 ft. (500 m.) cliff by Khmer emperors in the 11th and 12th centuries, Preah Vihear has a deep cultural significance for Cambodians. The land below the temple is the subject of the current dispute, which began after thousands of Phnom Penh residents marched through the streets to celebrate the temple’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 8, 2008.

In a 1962 ruling, the International Court of Justice awarded ownership of the temple to Cambodia in a 9-3 vote, based on a 1907 map that showed the site clearly within Cambodia’s borders. Thailand has abided by the ruling until recently, but is now claiming that Cambodia is trying to steal land along the border.

This claim is absolutely ludicrous for several reasons. First of all, Cambodia has no interest whatsoever in another protracted violent conflict with anybody. The kingdom is still trying to recover from 30 years of Pol Pot’s madness and the ensuing guerilla conflict in the ’80s and ’90s that cost the lives of more than 2.5 million and left the country in ruins. If there is any country that desires to live in peace, it is Cambodia.

Secondly, if “border creep” is indeed an issue then, according to foreign aid officials who worked on the Thai border in the ’80s, it is actually Thailand that has been the offender. No one is accusing Thailand of orchestrating a campaign, but it was Thai farmers, probably just trying to make a living, who took advantage of the turmoil in Cambodia to plant a few extra hectares in disputed border areas.

Finally, Cambodia was the first to call on the UN National Security Council to send in peacekeepers, having no need or desire to see a dispute over what amounts to just 1.8 sq. miles (4.6 sq. km) of scrubland ignite into a costly armed conflict.

With the recent escalation and exchange of fire in early February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called out the Thai government, stating that, "Thailand created this war. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit must assume responsibility for the war." Calling the conflict "a real war… not a clash,” he dispatched Cambodian troops to protect the local population and the 900 year-old temple.

Since then, Cambodian TV stations have been running fundraisers with donations large and small pouring in from all quarters to support the troops. Sporadic skirmishes have resulted a 11 deaths with dozens more injured and hundreds of locals fleeing the region on both sides of the border.

The danger for Cambodia if this dispute were to become “hot” is that relations with Thailand, an important regional economic partner, would be ruined for years, while hundreds on both sides would die needlessly. Thailand, with a population of 66 million and GDP of $312 B, may be able to afford such waste. Cambodia, with a population of 15 million and GDP of $11 B, cannot. This is why Cambodia was quick to ask the UN Security Council to create a buffer zone in the province and approached ASEAN, which avoids interfering in member states’ disputes, about mediating between the two sides.

Fortunately, ASEAN has been able to broker an agreement to send a military/civilian team to the region. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said last Tuesday that unarmed observers would be deployed on both sides of the border, adding that “this is an observer team – not a peacekeeping or peace enforcement team.

Sending observers is a first step towards defusing this conflict, however, both governments must show good faith in negotiating a more permanent solution, perhaps under the auspices of the UN.

Preah Vihear, originally dedicated to the Khmer, is a masterpiece of its architecture that could become an important tourist destination, generating incomes for people on both sides of the border. If violence continues, this important source of revenue will dry up. Let’s hope for the sake of Thais and Cambodians living in the region that the only thing destroyed is the enmity between our two countries.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

The Preah Vihear Temple was made a UN World Heritage site in 2008
Cambodia Foreign Minister Hor Namhong (L), Marty Natalegawa (C), Thailand Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (R) (2)
Asean foreign ministers hold a meeting in Jakarta February 22,2011 to solve Cambodia-Thai Conflict

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nilima's picture

CONGRATS:)

CONGRATS:)

Sarvina's picture

Thank you Nilima!

Thank you Nilima!

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

nilima's picture

:D

:D

Liz4peace's picture

Too much conflict

It's amazing how many violent conflicts there are in the world. Everybody is focused on Libya and the Middle East right now, yet there are probably dozens of smaller conflicts all over the world that are going unnoticed, with tragic results for the populations affected. If you visit http://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/ you can see their weekly digest of conflicts happening all over the world. I think we are part of the vanguard seeking to end violent conflict in the world. Each word you write is an important contribution!

Sarvina's picture

Dearest Liz, Many thanks for

Dearest Liz,

Many thanks for your comment! It means a lot for me. It is good to understand more about the conflict through the site you shared me.

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

vivian's picture

Hi Sarvina You have taught me

Hi Sarvina

You have taught me so much about Cambodia. All I have heard about cambodia is from u. U are the cambodia I know and am sure that one day the change u desire for cambodia will take place.

Congratulation on your op-ed piece. Peace u will find in cambodia.

Vivian

''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

Sarvina's picture

Hi sister Vivian, Hope you

Hi sister Vivian,

Hope you and your family are fine! I am glad to hear you have learned my country through my writing. Thank you so much for your nice words sister! Hope sooner peace will come...

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

Ruun Abdi's picture

Well done dear. this is

Well done dear. this is beautifully written piece.

Lots of love,
RA

Sarvina's picture

Hey dear! Thank you so much

Hey dear! Thank you so much for your support! It is much for me:)

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

Fungai Machirori's picture

I hate borders

Borders make enemies of people. It is so sad because whether Cambodian or Thai, you are all people! Thank you for this peace! Keep it up!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Sarvina's picture

Yeah we can lost friendship

Yeah we can lost friendship if we don't have a mutual understanding to each others. Thank you so much Fungai for your comment!

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

BarbaraLH's picture

Focus on an important problem

Dear Sarvina,
I learned a lot from reading your piece and clearly felt your passion about finding a solution. I also liked that you put the Cambodian-Thai conflict in context with other world events.

Best,
Barbara

Sarvina's picture

Dear Barbara, Thanks for your

Dear Barbara,

Thanks for your comment! I am glad to hear you have learned a lot through my piece.

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

warona's picture

Cambodian Advocator!

Dear Sarvina!

So touching sister, i felt your pain. Yes in all our countries we cannot afford war! oh no,these are issues that will fuel conflicts and romours of war. Its an unhealthy environment.We all want peace. Am sorry to learn the state of Cambodia, as it is still recovering from the conflict that left the country so devastated and in ruins.

I cry for peace with you sister.Cambodian and Thais are brothers, may they find their love together.

Wish all the best

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

Sarvina's picture

Dear sister Warona, Thanks

Dear sister Warona,

Thanks for your comment! Yeah we want peace - no one wanna live in war. Cambodia wants peace!!!

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

Cheers to you, Sarvina! You have done a brilliant job with this piece!

This is clearly an important issue that needs to gain attention the world over and you have taken a strong step towards that end. Your writing is informed, inspired, and asserts clearly what needs to be done to resolve the issue. Your call-to-action for the governments of both countries is powerful, in particular.

May you (and the people of Cambodia and Thailand!) be compassionate and safe during this time of unrest...

All the best,

Kristin

Sarvina's picture

Thank you!

Hi Kristin,

Thanks for your lovely comment! We might take more time to stop this disputation as Thai is still trying to argue to Cambodia even the observers have come to observe the border. Anyways, I wish both Cambodia and Thailand would end this disputation soon.

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

mrbeckbeck's picture

Wonderful OpEd

Hi Sarvina,

Well done, sister! This final draft is spot-on. You clearly lay out the background information so that I felt that I understood the context of this conflict, and then you make a powerful call-to-action for government leaders. Great work!

It's amazing how an artificial "line in the sand" can lead to such violence and turmoil. Wouldn't it be great if everyone could simply celebrate the beauty and history of this sacred space? Needless bloodshed is a terrible consequence of creating borders between people.... I hope that your call for peace is heard loud and clear!

Again, well done! Thanks for sharing!
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

Sarvina's picture

Hi Scott, Many thanks for

Hi Scott,

Many thanks for taking time to read my article and writing me such a wonderful comment, brother! It means too much for me. Yeah it would be wonderful if we could end up this argument.

Love,

Sarvina

Regards,

Sarvina from Cambodia
VOF 2011 Correspondent

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