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Temple of Preah Vihear:

Thailand-Cambodia temple dispute

eah Vihear temple was

made a UN World Heritage site in 2008

A row over territory around the 11th Century border temple of Preah Vihear continues to strain ties
between Thailand and Cambodia. The BBC looks at the background to the dispute.

Who owns the temple?

The Hindu temple was awarded to Cambodia by a 1962 ruling at the International Court of Justice, which
both countries accepted at the time. Thailand does not officially claim ownership of the temple - the dispute is
over the area surrounding it. Thailand says the ICJ ruling did not rule on the border, only on the temple itself.

The geography of the area makes sovereignty a particularly complicated issue. The temple is perched on top of
a cliff, hundreds of feet above the Cambodian jungle. It has direct transport links to Thai towns and cities, and
tourists can visit the temple from Thailand without the need for visas.

In fact, until 2003 access from Cambodian territory was possible only via a gruelling hike through jungle and
mountains. In 2003 a road opened connecting a Cambodian town to the temple.

How long has the dispute been running?

The temple has been at the centre of a border dispute for more than a century. Maps drawn by Cambodia's
French colonial rulers and Thailand (or Siam, as it was then known) early in the 20th Century showed the
temple as belonging to Cambodia, but in later decades Thailand said the maps were not official and were
therefore invalid.

The ICJ granted the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but the decision rankled Thailand. The dispute was largely
moribund for decades as Cambodia plunged into a civil conflict that lingered until the 1990s.
The issue escalated again when Cambodia applied for it be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.
Thailand wanted it to be a joint Thai-Cambodia listing, but eventually withdrew its objection. The decision
enraged Thai nationalists and both sides began a build-up of troops in the area.
In April 2009, soldiers exchanged fire across the disputed border. More serious trouble flared in February
2011, when at least eight people were killed in several days of fighting. The violence moved westwards to
another set of temples in April, before shifting back to Preah Vihear, as widespread clashes forced tens of
thousands to flee.

Is anyone trying to sort out the dispute?

In February 2011 Cambodia took the case to the UN Security Council, which then referred it to regional bloc
Asean. Indonesia, as then-president of Asean, led mediation efforts. Both sides said they would allow access
to Asean monitors.

However, Asean could do nothing to prevent further fighting flaring up again in April and talks between the
leaders of the two countries failed to break the deadlock.

In April, Cambodia returned to the ICJ and requested it clarify its 1962 ruling. In July, the ICJ designated a
demilitarised zone around the temple and ordered troops from both countries to leave the area.
Hearings at the ICJ began in April 2013. The court is set to rule on 11 November 2013.

Why is the temple so important?

The Hindu temple was built mainly in the 11th and 12th centuries, by the same Khmer civilisation that built
Angkor Wat. The Khmers dominated the region for five centuries. As Cambodia has a tragic recent history of
genocide and civil war, politicians often look to the glorious distant past to inspire nationalist sentiment.

And Cambodian nationalists often use Thailand as a bogeyman to stoke nationalist fervour - charting a litany
of wrongs such as the successive Thai invasions that helped destroy the once mighty Khmer empires and
rendered the country defenceless against French colonial conquest in the 19th Century.
Thailand also took advantage of the chaos during World War II to occupy large chunks of western Cambodia,
including the temples at Angkor Wat. It was forced to hand them back when the war ended.

The Thai military often treated Cambodian refugees who fled the civil wars of the 1970s and 80s harshly - and
Thailand backed the remnants of the Khmer Rouge in their struggle against the Vietnamese occupation, so
helping prolong the civil war.

On the Thai side, the Khmer civilisation profoundly influenced Thai culture, and there are many famous
Khmer-style temples in Thailand. In recent years, a powerful nationalist lobby allied to the military has helped
drive a more muscular foreign policy agenda in Thailand.

The temple is also only one of several areas where the two countries disagree on where the border is. The
maritime border is the subject of a dispute - and one which affects the development of oil and gas reserves in
the Gulf of Thailand. The two sides had reached agreement on joint development, but the deal was then
scrapped by the administration of former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The CambodianThai border dispute began in June 2008 as the latest round of a century-long dispute
between Cambodia and Thailand involving the area surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear Temple,
in the Dngrk Mountains between the Choam Khsant district in the Preah Vihear Province of northern
Cambodia and the Kantharalak district (amphoe) in Sisaket Province of northeastern Thailand.
According to the Cambodian ambassador to the United Nations, the most recent dispute began on 15
July 2008 when about 50 Thai soldiers moved into the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda vicinity which he
claims is located in Cambodia's territory about 300 metres (980 ft) from the Temple of Preah
Vihear.[7] Thailand claims the demarcation has not yet been completed for the external parts of the area
adjacent to the temple, which was adjudged to be Cambodian by a nine to three decision of
the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962.[8] By August 2008, the dispute had expanded to the 13th
century Ta Moan temple complex 153 kilometres (95 mi) west of Preah Vihear
(142057N 1031559E), where Cambodia has accused Thai troops of occupying a temple complex it
claims is on Cambodian land. The Thai foreign ministry denied that any troops had moved into that area
until several were killed in an encounter in April 2011.[9][10] An agreement was reached in December
2011 to withdraw troops from the disputed area.[11]
On 11 November 2013, the ICJ declared in a unanimous decision that the 1962 ICJ judgment had
awarded all of the promontoryof Preah Vihear to Cambodia and that Thailand had an obligation to
withdraw any Thai military, police, or guard forces stationed in that area.[1] However, it rejected
Cambodia's argument that the judgment had also awarded the hill of Phnom Trap (three kilometers
northwest of the temple) to Cambodia, finding that it had made no ruling on sovereignty over the hill.


The Preah Vihear temple area has been the subject of debate within Cambodia and Thailand since the
late 19th century.
The temple complex was built during the 9th and 10th centuries AD under the auspices of the Khmer
Empire. As the empire reached its zenith and began a slow decline, the Ayutthaya Kingdom began to
grow into the modern state of Thailand. Siam and Vietnam expanded into Cambodian territory in turn
during the Ayutthaya, Thonburi, and Rattanakosineras.[citation needed]
The Franco-Siamese treaty of 1867 forced Siam to renounce suzerainty over Cambodia, with the
exception of Battambang, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, and Oddar MeancheayProvinces,[12] which
had been officially incorporated into the Kingdom of Siam. During the 1904 state visit of King Rama V to
France, Siam agreed to cede the four provinces to France in exchange for regaining Thai sovereignty
over Trat Province and Amphoe Dan Sai of Loei Province, which had been occupied by France.[12]
In 1907 the Thai-Cambodian border was mapped by the French on behalf of a bilateral border
commission. According to the 1904 agreement, the border would follow the natural watershed between
the countries. However, the resulting map deviated by showing Preah Vihear Temple as being in
Cambodia, even though it is on the Thai side of the watershed. Thailand accepted the map for official
use. The Thais discovered the error when they made their own survey in the 1930s, but the ICJ ruled
that they had waited too long to protest and lost the temple by "acquiesance".[13]
Immediately prior to World War II, the Thai government attempted to negotiate an adjustment of the
border with French Indochina. However, this came to an end with the French surrender in 1940 to Nazi
Germany. The government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram then pressed the colonial
government of French Indochina for the return of territory Thailand had lost in the 1904 and 1907
exchanges: Battambang Province of Thailand (modern day Battambang Province and Pailin municipality,
Cambodia), Phibunsongkhram Province (modern day Siem Reap Province, Oddar Meancheay Province,
and Banteay Meanchey Province Cambodia), Nakhon Champa Sak Province (modern day Champassack
Province, Laos, Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia), and Saiyaburi Province of Laos (modern
day Xaignabouli Province, Laos); (See map below) [12] The French colonial government refused to comply
and fighting broke out along the border. In December 1940, Phibunsongkhram ordered an outright
invasion of French Indochina, starting the French-Thai War. The Thai army and air force was better
equipped and had the advantage of numbers against the Colonial French forces; they pushed back the
French Foreign Legion and French colonial troops with little difficulty. However, the more modern
French Navy caught the Thai fleet by surprise and won a decisive victory in the Battle of Koh Chang.
Imperial Japan intervened to mediate the conflict, concerned that the conflict would affect their own
plans for Southeast Asia.[14] A general armistice was declared on 28 January 1941. On 9 May a peace
treaty was signed in Tokyo, the French being coerced by the Japanese into relinquishing their claim on
the territories demanded by Thailand.

Map of Cambodia and Thailand, showing the location of the temple

On 7 December 1941, a few hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan demanded the right to move
troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. Before the Thais could respond, the Japanese Invasion of
Thailand began across the Cambodian border and at seven points along the sea coast. The Thai forces
resisted, but were soon beaten by the Japanese. After only six or seven hours, Prime Minister Plaek
Phibunsongkhram arrived in Bangkok and ordered an immediate ceasefire. Japan was reluctantly
granted free passage, and after Japan's easy conquest of Singapore, Phibunsongkhram signed a military
alliance with Japan on 21 December 1941. It contained a secret protocol in which Tokyo agreed to help
Thailand regain the territories it had lost to the British and French colonial powers. In exchange,
Thailand promised to assist Japan in its war against the Allies.
After the end of the war, Prime Minister Pridi Phanomyong agreed to return the "liberated" territories
to France, in return for he and Thailand not being regarded as an aggressor nor a member of the Axis
Powers. He also requested admission to the newly created United Nations. Initially, both the UK and
the Soviet Union regarded Thailand as an aggressor, despite its active anti-Japanese underground
movement. The United States intervened in gratitude to the Free Thai Movement and prevailed on its
wartime allies to agree.
With Cambodian Independence and the French withdrawal in 1953, the Thai military occupied Preah
Vihear Temple in 1954 in keeping with the border line of the natural watershed. The temple had been
built facing north to serve the plains above it, not those of the Cambodian plain far below. However,
based on the 1907 French map, Cambodia protested, insisting that it was inside their territory. Both
countries finally agreed to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice and abide by its
In 1962 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded ownership of Preah Vihear Temple to Cambodia
by a nine to three vote, stating the 1907 map clearly showed Preah Vihear as being in
Cambodia.[15] Nevertheless, the court had only ruled that the temple belong to Cambodia, and did not
comment on the adjacent land to the north. Thailand reluctantly handed over the temple but continues
to claim the surrounding area, insisting the border has never officially been demarcated here.[16]
The ownership dispute revived in recent years when Cambodia submitted an application
to UNESCO requesting that Preah Vihear be designated as a World Heritage site. Thailand contended the
application requested the designation include the land surrounding the temple, which Thailand still
considers its territory. In the interest of cross-border relations Cambodia withdrew the application, and
after winning support from Thailand, submitted a modified map requesting the designation only for the
temple itself.
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a right wing Thai protest group, turned the temple into
a cause clbre wedge issue in its battles against the People Power Partygovernment of Prime
Minister Samak Sundaravej in their attempts to unseat the former and current Cabinet of
Thailand.[17][18] In 2006 PAD-led street protests led first to the Thai general election of April 2006, largely
boycotted by the opposition and won by then-incumbent Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak
Thai Party. This was followed by the military coup of June 2006, which ousted Thaksin, the caretaker
prime minister. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was viewed as a proxy for the self-exiled Thaksin
Shinawatra, who now lives abroad to avoid conviction for corruption.
Across the border, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) government of Prime Minister Hun Sen used the
possibly coincidental timing of UNESCO's annual meeting and the listing of the temple as a World
Heritage site in campaigning for the 27 July 2008 parliamentary election.[18]